Leaders: European challenge on alcohol must be resisted

France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria are seeking to block the Scottish government's plans for minimum alcohol pricing. Picture: PA
France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria are seeking to block the Scottish government's plans for minimum alcohol pricing. Picture: PA
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For years Scottish life has been blighted by the effects of easily available cheap alcohol.

It has had evident adverse health effects, wrecked thousands of lives, fuelled violent and abusive behaviour, put enormous strain on our health and welfare services and caused widespread social problems. It is against this background that the proposal to introduce a minimum price for alcohol gained widespread acceptance. The Scotsman supported the legislation in principle in the face of compelling evidence of the need for action. In the crisp summation of Scotland’s Health Secretary Alex Neil, “The problem drink is cheap booze, cheap vodka, cheap cider … and that’s where the impact of minimum unit pricing will be”.

However, legislation faces both problems in implementation and legal challenge from alcohol producers. While the Scotch Whisky Association lost the first round of the legal battle in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, it is launching an appeal. This could go all the way to the Supreme Court in London and even the European Court of Justice. At the heart of the SWA’s objection is that the policy would damage its trade and damage overseas producers who rely on importing to Scotland and the UK. It says the Court of Session failed to give any consideration to the effect of minimum unit pricing on producers in other EU member states.

Now a formidable legal challenge has come directly from continental Europe. France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Bulgaria are seeking to block the Scottish government’s plans for minimum alcohol pricing, arguing that the policy is illegal, unfair and ineffective. At the centre of these objections is that many European alcohol products cost less to produce than domestically produced drink and that they would be hit proportionately harder. France, for example, claims that the average price of a bottle of wine produced in the UK is higher than the average price of imported wine. Minimum pricing would set the minimum price per unit of alcohol at 50p, meaning a bottle of wine with an alcoholic strength of 12.5 per cent would cost at least £4.69.

The Scottish government argues that the legislation would not affect “deluxe whisky or a good wine from France”. But it will have a problem convincing producers of this view. Portugal claims that minimum pricing would protect the domestic wine market and national producers against the competition of imported wines. Spain and Italy have also lodged strong objections, as have Bulgaria and Poland, the latter a major vodka producer which fears minimum pricing will affect the price of 92 per cent of vodkas.

Daunting though this is for the Scottish government, it needs to continue to put the case for legislation and redouble its efforts on other fronts to tackle a major alcohol problem. It is estimated to be costing the country £3.6 billion a year. And the need for action remains compelling.

Standards sliding in care for elderly

Across society as a whole there is an imperative to treat older people with courtesy and respect. And nowhere should this be more attentively observed than in hospital, where the elderly are at their weakest and most vulnerable.

So it is troubling to read the results of inspections across Scotland undertaken by Healthcare Improvement Scotland of the care of elderly patients. While it found good examples of the treatment being provided, it also found cases where patients were not being treated with compassion and respect. In fact it identified 87 “areas for improvement” where standards were not being met and which gave rise to concerns about the impact on patients. These far outnumbered the 25 cases where hospitals were judged to be doing well.

It’s important to recognise the many examples of staff treating older people with compassion, dignity and respect and of “warm interactions” which were appreciated by patients. These prove the proper standards of which our nurses and hospital staff are capable. As such, they are an exemplar for those others who have let standards slip.

Hospital work is pressurised and exacting. It demands a lot from staff who often have multiple duties. But basic consideration and courtesy does not require specialist training or qualifications. It is within the capability of all staff to treat the elderly properly – as staff members themselves would wish to be treated when the time comes when they, too, will need hospital care.

Health Improvement Scotland should continue to work with NHS boards to ensure that all older people receive the best

care possible when they are in hospital.