A new report has been released by Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS) calling for bold action by the Scottish Government as it prepares to refresh its national alcohol strategy.
The report is intended to inform the next phase of the Scottish Government’s alcohol strategy and was developed with the BMA Scotland, SHAAP and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs. It outlines a comprehensive range of actions that it wishes to see the Government prioritise, including a target to reduce national consumption in Scotland by 10%. It argues the fall in consumption could potentially deliver a 20% reduction in deaths and hospital admissions after 20 years, based on University of Sheffield modelling.
The report’s recommendations include:
- Implementing a 50p minimum unit price as soon as possible
- Developing a strategic approach to reducing the availability of alcohol, and improving existing licensing regulation
- Reducing exposure of children to alcohol advertising and sponsorship
- Protecting every child’s right to an alcohol-free childhood
- Clearer information for consumers about the health risks associated with drinking
- More investment in alcohol prevention, treatment and support services
The report states that whilst per capita alcohol consumption in Scotland declined by 9% between 2009 and 2013, since 2012 the amount of alcohol sold and number of people dying as a result have increased. In 2015 the amount of litres of pure alcohol sold was 10.8 per adult in Scotland; equivalent to 20.8 units per adult per week. Alcohol misuse is stated to cost £3.56 billion a year in health, social care, crime, productive capacity and wider costs, whilst the cost to the NHS in Scotland is £267 million. The cost of alcohol-related crime in Scotland is £727 million a year, and the total costs to society equate to £900 for every adult in Scotland.
Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said Scotland was "awash with alcohol" and that "widespread availability, low prices and heavy marketing are having a devastating effect." Dr Peter Bennie, Chair of BMA Scotland said doctors see "the first-hand the damage that alcohol misuse does to patients and their families" and that the country could not afford the costs of alcohol upon the health service.
Health Secretary Shona Robison welcomed the report and said the government would consider all of the recommendations. Last year the final Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) report was released, indicating the Scottish Government’s alcohol strategy has had a positive impact over the past 5 years despite minimum unit pricing (MUP) not having been implemented.
In 2015 a report was released exploring the extent to which alcohol policies across the UK nations were evidence-based. The report rated Scotland as having the strongest approach based on policy detailed in 'Health First', an independent alcohol strategy proposed by a coalition of independent health bodies in 2013. Scotland's main weakness was rated as its involvement of alcohol industry in policy decisions - public health groups argue industry should only be involved as producers, retailers and distributors, and not be permitted to influence policy.
Meanwhile Scotland's infamous long running effort to implement MUP has been repeatedly challenged by sections of the alcohol industry led by the Scotch Whisky Association. The most recent appeal was described as amounting to 'delaying tactics' by AFS and others who remain hopeful that MUP will finally be authorised to commence this year.
Certainly it appears the Scottish Government support an alcohol policy approach that public health groups deem largely evidence based. Many including PHE suggest the same approach is needed in England, albeit that MUP has not technically been ruled out. However given the broader political context, those wishing to influence alcohol policy may feel now may not be the most opportune time. Equally, alcohol and related health policy debates may still be considered relatively high profile and with many MPs now routinely involved in a number of alcohol-related issues.