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Alcohol-related deaths rise 5% in a year

Minimum unit pricing promises still unfulfilled

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 21 August 2015

The number of alcohol related deaths in Scotland rose by 5% last year compared to the previous year, according to new statistics from the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

Doctors’ leaders have expressed their frustration at the rise and called for renewed efforts from the Scottish Government to introduce minimum unit pricing for alcohol, something that has been promised.

The NRS published its statistics on alcohol-related deaths which showed that in 2014, there were 1,152 alcohol-related deaths – an increase of 52 (5%) compared with 1,100 in 2013 and a rise of 6.6%% since the 1,080 such deaths registered in 2012.

NRS said the number of alcohol-related deaths was relatively stable, at roughly 600 per year, during the 1980s and then increased rapidly during the 1990s and early 2000s, to around 1,500 per year in the mid-2000s.

Since then, the trend appeared to be downwards, and having two consecutive increases did not necessarily mean a change to the long-term downward trend.

Nevertheless, chair of BMA Scotland Dr Peter Bennie said: “It is disappointing to see the rise in the number of alcohol-related deaths, but it does underline the importance of tackling the culture of heavy drinking in Scotland.

“The Scottish Government has made great strides to introduce a comprehensive alcohol strategy, but it will inevitably be less effective without measures to deal with the affordability of alcohol and the proliferation of cheap, high strength alcohol that fuels heavy drinking and causes the greatest harm.

“It is a continuing frustration that legislation to introduce minimum unit pricing of alcohol has been delayed due to the legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association and we once again call on them to drop this appeal and allow the introduction of this innovative and world leading public health policy.”

The Scotch Whisky Association’s challenge claims that introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol would be illegal, ineffective in tackling alcohol misuse, penalise responsible drinkers and damage the industry. It is currently being considered in Europe.

Scottish public health minister Maureen Watt said: “This increase in alcohol-related deaths is disappointing, particularly given the decreasing trend we have seen in recent years.

“Alcohol deaths in Scotland are almost double those in the early 1990s. The 5% increase in 2014, following a 2% rise the previous year, shows that even though significant progress has been made since 2006 far more needs to be done.

“There is no doubt that a key factor in alcohol-related harm is affordability. This is why minimum unit pricing is such an important part of our package of measures to tackle the availability of cheap, high strength alcohol that causes so much damage in our communities.

NRS also published Scotland’s Population 2014 – the Registrar General’s Annual Review of Demographic Trends.

Tim Ellis, the registrar general of Scotland, said: “This is a time of substantial demographic change: the population is increasing and ageing. The ageing population is the most distinctive current demographic development and will bring both opportunities and challenges.

“Life expectancy at birth in Scotland, while increasing, is lower than in the UK as a whole, and lower than a lot of other developed countries. There is also considerable local variation in life expectancy.”

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