Minimum unit pricing: Scotland policy led to 150 fewer alcohol deaths a year, researchers claim
Scientists from the University of Glasgow, the University of Queensland and Public Health Scotland have found “significant reductions in alcohol-specific deaths” since the introduction of MUP, particularly “among those from the most socio-economically deprived areas in Scotland”.
Over the two years and eight months following the implementation of MUP, there was a 13 per cent reduction in deaths from alcohol consumption in Scotland.
This is compared to an estimate, using data from England, of the deaths that would have occurred had the legislation not been implemented. It is equivalent to avoiding around 150 deaths a year.
The research, published in The Lancet, shows a 4.1 per cent reduction in hospitalisations for conditions wholly attributable to alcohol consumption, equivalent to avoiding 411 hospitalisations per year, on average.
Researchers also found significant reductions in deaths wholly attributable to alcohol consumption were greatest for men and for those living in the 40 per cent most socio-economically deprived areas of Scotland.
Dr Grant Wyper, public health intelligence adviser at PHS, said: “The greatest reductions were seen for chronic alcohol health harms, in particular alcoholic liver disease, which were slightly offset with less certain evidence of increases in acute alcohol health harms.
“The findings highlight that the largest reductions were found for males, and for those living in the 40 per cent most deprived areas, groups which are known to experience disproportionally high levels of alcohol health harms in Scotland.
“We know that those living in the most socio-economically deprived areas in Scotland experience alcohol-specific death rates more than five times higher compared to those living in the least deprived areas. The results published today are therefore very encouraging in addressing this inequality, and the overall scale of preventable harm which affects far too many people.”
However, researchers found MUP was associated with an increase in the rate of deaths and hospitalisations due to short-term conditions caused by alcohol consumption, such as alcohol poisoning, although these findings were said to be “not statistically significant”.
Researchers suggested one reason for this could be that some people may have reduced their spending on food or lowered their food intake due to the financial pressures of the policy being implemented, which might have led to faster intoxication or poisoning.
Also, short-term conditions contribute to around 5 per cent of alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland, and therefore these estimates have a large degree of associated uncertainty.
As is normal for scientific studies, the reports’ authors acknowledged some limitations to the study, including there was an impact on hospital capacity and attendance during the Covid-19 pandemic, which increases the uncertainty of the study findings related to hospitalisations.
Additionally, recent Office for National Statistics figures have indicated a recent worsening in alcohol-specific mortality in both Scotland and England. The study period did not include this new data. However, the increase in the rate in Scotland from 2020 to 2021 (4 per cent) was lower than in England (7 per cent) and so the authors suggest it is therefore unlikely the inclusion of more recent data would have altered the main findings.
Professor Daniel Mackay, from the School of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, said: “The methods we’ve used in this study allow us to be confident that the reduction in alcohol health harms we’ve shown is due to the introduction of MUP, rather than some other factor.”
Public health minister Maree Todd welcomed the study, which comes after previous research estimated that alcohol sales had dropped by 3 per cent after MUP. “I am very pleased with these findings, which point to more than 150 lives a year being saved and 411 fewer hospital admissions, further underlining the value of our world-leading minimum unit pricing policy, which has helped reduce alcohol sales to their lowest on record,” she said.
“We’re determined to do all we can to reduce alcohol-related harm, which is one of the most pressing public health challenges that we face in Scotland.”
Dr Alastair MacGilchrist, chair of expert clinician partnership at Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), described MUP as a “progressive policy”. He said: “Minimum unit pricing was introduced to save lives, and this latest report shows it is doing just that.”
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