NHS Health Scotland has today published the latest data on Scotland’s relationship with alcohol. The report, Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy: Monitoring Report 2017, brings together data on alcohol retail sales, price and affordability, self-reported alcohol consumption and alcohol-related deaths, hospital admissions and social harms.
Today’s report shows that in 2015, an average of 22 people per week died in Scotland due to an alcohol-related cause. This is 54% higher than in England and Wales. There are significant inequalities in alcohol-related harm, with higher levels seen in less affluent groups. In the most deprived areas of Scotland rates of alcohol-related death were six times higher than in the least deprived areas, while rates of alcohol-related hospital stays were nine times higher.
In 2016, 10.5 litres of pure alcohol were sold per adult in Scotland, equivalent to 20.2 units per adult per week. The UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk alcohol guidelines advise against men and women drinking more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. This means that enough alcohol was sold last year in Scotland for every adult to exceed the weekly guideline by 44%, every week of the year. In Scotland, sales of alcohol per adult per week are 17% greater than in England and Wales.
Although it is clear from the report that Scotland continues to have a problem with alcohol, there are also a number of encouraging findings. The increase in population consumption in Scotland between 2013 and 2015 did not continue, with sales per adult returning to a similar level as in 2013. In addition, self-reported consumption data show that the proportion of people drinking at harmful levels has fallen and the proportion of non-drinkers has risen.
The lead author of the report, Lucie Giles, Public Health Intelligence Adviser, said: “It is worrying that as a nation we buy enough alcohol for every person in Scotland to exceed the weekly drinking guideline substantially. This has harmful consequences for individuals, their family and friends as well as wider society and the economy. The harm that alcohol causes to our health is not distributed equally; the harmful effects are felt most by those living in the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland.
“Alcohol has become more affordable in recent years as disposable income has increased. In Scotland, more than half of all alcohol sold through supermarkets and off-licences is sold at less than 50 pence per unit.
“It is important that we continue to monitor alcohol price, consumption and alcohol-related harms to inform and evaluate policy.”
Responding to the publication, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA), said: “These figures are shocking and show why minimum unit pricing is needed in Scotland.
“Lives have so far been lost in Scotland as a result of legal challenges to minimum pricing from the alcohol industry, which has delayed its implementation.
“The figures show that the picture in England and Wales is not much better, and demonstrate that we need minimum unit pricing across the rest of the UK too.
“If minimum unit pricing is ruled legal in Scotland, a decision by Westminster to delay would be a death sentence for some, including many from the lowest income groups. The evidence is already clear – minimum unit pricing saves lives, prevents illness and lowers hospital admissions.”