Urgent action is needed to turn the alcohol ‘tide of harm’ in Scotland, says a call from more than 30 medical organisations and charities.
Without it the country could be ‘sleep walking our way back to the record levels of deaths we saw in the early 2000s’, states Alcohol Focus Scotland. Signatories to the statement include SHAAP, BMA Scotland, the British Liver Trust, We Are With You and several royal colleges.
In 2021 there were 1,245 deaths from ‘conditions caused by alcohol’ in Scotland (DDN, September 2022), the highest number since 2008 – although the figure is still lower than at the turn of the millennium. Scotland’s alcohol-related death rate is currently around 1.7 times higher than England’s, compared to 2.9 times higher in 2001.
Scotland’s new first minister, Humza Yousaf, needs to show ‘strong leadership’, the organisations state, and prioritise ‘increased and sustained’ investment in a full range of alcohol services including community-based, residential, peer-led and mutual aid options, as well as renewing the commitment to tightening marketing regulations. While Scotland had launched a consultation into restricting marketing late last year, Yousaf has confirmed that proposals such as banning billboard advertising and phasing out sports sponsorship deals have now been paused following concerns from ‘an industry which is already facing challenges on multiple fronts’.
Identification and testing for people at risk of liver disease in primary care also needs to be improved, the organisations state, with alcohol care teams set up in hospitals for earlier identification of people with underlying alcohol problems. The minimum unit price should also be increased to 65p, they add, while an ‘alcohol harm prevention levy’ should be introduced on retailers to help fund prevention and treatment. A study by Public Health Scotland, the Lancet and the University of Glasgow earlier this year concluded that an estimated 13 per cent reduction in deaths and 4 per cent reduction in hospital admissions had already been achieved by the 50p minimum unit price.
‘Alcohol is Scotland’s drug of choice,’ said Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas. ‘It is addictive and carcinogenic. Yet because it is promoted as an everyday product, essential to having fun and relaxing, we are blinkered to the reality of the high levels of damage it causes. It’s 16 months since the Scottish Government rightly recognised there is a ‘public health emergency’ on alcohol, but there has been no plan to address it. This is unacceptable. When bold action is taken it saves lives, as we have seen with the minimum unit price. The first minister and his new team must act urgently to improve access to treatment and support and deliver on prevention, including by uprating the minimum unit price and by introducing meaningful marketing restrictions that protect people from being bombarded by alcohol ads.’
Full briefing paper, Emergency response required to prevent deaths from alcohol, at www.alcohol-focus-scotland.org.uk