There was an estimated 13 per cent reduction in deaths and a 4 per cent reduction in hospital admissions ‘wholly attributable to alcohol consumption’ as a result of the implementation of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Scotland, says a study by Public Health Scotland (PHS) and The Lancet in collaboration with the University of Glasgow. The estimated findings cover the period between MUP’s implementation in 2018 and the end of 2020.
MUP had also reduced deaths and hospital admissions where alcohol ‘may be one of a range of causative factors’, the report states. A separate study from PHS and the University of Glasgow late last year found that MUP had led to a 3 per cent reduction in off-trade alcohol sales (www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/scottish-alcohol-sales-down-3-per-cent-since-mup).
According to the most recent National Records of Scotland statistics, however, deaths from ‘conditions caused by alcohol’ reached their highest level for more than a decade in 2021, at 1,245 (www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/scottish-alcohol-deaths-at-highest-level-for-13-years). The report’s study period doesn’t include 2021 but the document states that ‘the age-standardised rate of alcohol-specific mortality increased by 7 per cent from 2020 to 2021 in England, compared to 4 per cent in Scotland – it is therefore unlikely that the inclusion of mortality outcomes from 2021 would have altered our findings.’ There have been suggestions that COVID-19 ‘may interact with existing liver problems, and potentially increase vulnerability to those already at the highest risk of alcohol-related harms’, it adds.
The researchers state that they are confident that the reduction in health harms was the result of the introduction of MUP, rather than other factors. ‘Our approach compared what happened to alcohol health harms in Scotland with its neighbouring country, England, where MUP was not introduced,’ said professor of medical statistics at the University of Glasgow, Professor Jim Lewsey. ‘The methods we have used and the consistency of our findings with what was anticipated before MUP was introduced allow us to be confident that the reduction in alcohol health harms is because of the MUP intervention.’
The study estimates that ‘following more than two and a half years of implementation, around 150 deaths and around 400 hospital admissions, wholly attributable to alcohol consumption, were averted each year due to MUP,’ said PHS public health intelligence adviser Dr Grant Wyper. ‘The greatest reductions were seen for chronic alcohol health harms, in particular alcoholic liver disease, which were slightly offset with less certain evidence of increases in acute alcohol health harms. The findings highlight that the largest reductions were found for males, and for those living in the 40 per cent most deprived areas, groups which are known to experience disproportionally high levels of alcohol health harms in Scotland.’
The study painted a ‘very positive picture’ of MUP’s effectiveness, added Alcohol Health Alliance chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore. ‘It strengthens the wealth of research already out there that shows MUP works to save lives, reduces pressure on the healthcare system and lessens the growing health inequality gap. The UK government must introduce this life-saving policy and bring us up to speed with our neighbours. The data and evidence are there, it cannot be ignored any longer.’
PHS is now bringing together the findings from a range of MUP studies for a report to be published in June.