Scotland's minimum unit pricing of alcohol has been so successful it should encourage other life-saving public health policies – Dr Tamasin Knight

The 13.4 per cent reduction in deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption shows minimum unit pricing is a policy worth building on

In the world of public health, steps forward are often hard-won. We encounter strong opposition from those with vested interests in opposing progress. Making your case in a highly charged political environment can be difficult – but we continue to do so as we know what we are fighting for is based on evidence and will benefit the long-term health of the whole country.

That was the case when the British Medical Association campaigned strongly for minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol. Despite much of the alcohol industry and others lining up against us and others who believed in the policy, we were clear that it would deliver results – and most importantly save lives.

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Earlier this summer, Public Health Scotland (PHS) published its final report of the programme to evaluate the policy. Their evidence was clear: minimum unit pricing has achieved its aims. The report brought together the findings from multiple studies and indicated that MUP has saved lives and averted hospital admissions.

While the 13.4 per cent reduction in deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption is in itself simply a number, behind these statistics are real people, who now have the chance to live fulfilling lives which they may not otherwise have done, and families who get more time and better quality time with their loved ones.

This is surely something worth celebrating. The reported 4.1 per cent reduction in hospital admissions caused by alcohol use is also crucial, given the huge pressures on our hospitals, and just demonstrates the potential for public health measures to make a real difference to demand on services. It frees up vital clinician time to see more people who desperately need their help.

By demonstrating further commitment to MUP and other measures to tackle our country’s difficult relationship with alcohol, we believe policymakers can embed this positive change and that the reduction in hospital admissions will continue. Importantly, the largest health impact of the policy was in the most deprived areas, which indicates progress in at least beginning to tackle the health inequalities that blight Scotland and its local communities.

The key now is to build on this – and for the Scottish Government to redouble its efforts. They can do this by uprating the minimum unit price, given the impact of inflation, and then focussing on ensuring there is a package of supportive measures in place to ensure we aren’t simply relying on MUP to reduce the harm caused by problem alcohol use in Scotland.

There will no doubt again be argument and debate for and against this approach and indeed other public health measures designed to tackle important issues – obesity for example. Of course, that’s healthy in any democracy. But if the MUP experience really is going to be learnt from, then a primary lesson is that we shouldn’t ever take a backward step in fighting for measures that tackle the deep-rooted health problems we face in Scotland. The success of MUP should be a rallying call to go further, fight harder, make our case more strongly and, in the end, save more lives.

Dr Tamasin Knight is a consultant in public health medicine and a member of the British Medical Association’s Scottish Consultants Committee



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