Dr Brian Keighley: Cirrhosis deaths are up 450%

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THE BMA in Scotland has supported the principle of minimum pricing for alcohol for a number of years and we were delighted that this approach was included when the SNP first set out their strategy for tackling Scotland’s drinking problem.

That was three years ago and the Scottish Parliament has taken great strides to reform the Scottish licensing system and more recently, to ban quantity discounts for alcohol, roll out the Challenge 25 programme and restrict alcohol promotions.

However these steps, while progressive, will have a limited effect without any real efforts to tackle price. For too long supermarkets have been selling alcohol at below-cost prices as a means to attract more customers to their stores.

Critics of minimum pricing claim there is no evidence, but emerging evidence from Canada backs up the modelling work undertaken by the University of Sheffield on the positive effects of minimum pricing.

A new study conducted by Professor Tim Stockwell at the University of Victoria shows that the minimum price model (which is similar to that proposed for Scotland) in Saskatchewan has resulted in a reduction in overall consumption by around 5 per cent and has reduced alcohol-related hospital admissions. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that there has been a reduction in public disorder and drunkenness.

Scotland’s drinking culture is legendary, but for all the wrong reasons. Over the last 30 years, UK liver cirrhosis mortality has risen by over 450 per cent across the population.

In Scotland, we now have one of the highest mortality rates in Western Europe, much higher than the rate in England.

• Dr Brian Keighley is a GP in Balfron and chairman of the BMA in Scotland.