New figures published this week reveal that enough alcohol is being sold in England and Wales for every drinker to consume 21 units of alcohol a week – far more than the low-risk level of 14 units per week for both men and women recommended by the UK’s chief medical officers. The figures reveal that the situation is even worse in Scotland, with enough alcohol being sold for every drinker to consume 24 units a week. The data was released by NHS Health Scotland, who also looked at consumption in England and Wales in order to compare patterns across the UK. In 2016 10.5 litres of pure alcohol were sold per adult in Scotland, equivalent to 20.2 units per person per week!
“As a nation we buy enough alcohol for every person in Scotland to exceed the weekly drinking guideline substantially” Lucie Giles (author of the report)
The annual report from NHS Health Scotland brings together data on alcohol retail sales, price and affordability, self-reported consumption and alcohol-related deaths, hospital admissions and social harms. It found that in 2015 an average of 22 people per week died in Scotland due to an alcohol-related cause, a figure 54 per cent higher than that recorded in England and Wales. In the most deprived areas of Scotland alcohol-related death rates were six times higher than in the wealthiest areas. Rates of alcohol-related hospital stays were also nine times higher.
However, the report said there were some signs that Scots were curtailing their drinking habits, with self-reported data showing that the proportion of tee-totallers has also risen.
“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.” Lucie Giles
To tackle high levels of alcohol-related deaths and illness, Scotland is set to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol; designed to target cheap, high-% alcohol drinks favoured by vulnerable and harmful drinkers.. The Scottish government passed minimum unit pricing over 5 years ago, though implementation of the measure has so far been delayed due to legal challenges from the alcohol industry. Minimum unit pricing formed part of the Westminster government’s alcohol strategy in 2012, though has yet to be implemented in England and Wales.
“This report shows that, whilst some progress has been made in tackling alcohol misuse, we need to do more. Over the last few years, more than half of alcohol sold in supermarkets and off-licences was sold at less than 50p per unit, and enough alcohol was sold in the off-trade alone to exceed the weekly drinking guideline by a considerable amount. That is why we need minimum unit pricing, which will largely impact on the off-trade and will increase the price of the cheap, high strength alcohol.” Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell
Responding to the publication of the figures, 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, as well as in the rest of the UK. As a result of the legal challenges from the alcohol industry, lives will undoubtedly have been lost in Scotland. We hope and expect minimum unit pricing to be ruled legal in the final court hearing in this case in July, so that implementation in Scotland can follow.
“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.”
The NHS Health Scotland figures are available here.
For more information on Minimum Unit Pricing, check out a report from the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group.
More posts related to this one: