Scottish alcohol death toll up to six times UK average

DEATHS linked to alcohol in some areas of Scotland are six times higher than the UK average, new figures reveal.

The death rate in Glasgow Shettleston last year was 574 per cent of the UK national average.

The figures also showed that in 64 of the 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies, the number of drink-related deaths was higher than the UK average of 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

The Scottish average is 27.3 deaths per 100,000 for 2008.

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The shocking figures, released yesterday, led to renewed calls for tough measures to tackle alcohol-related health problems in Scotland, such as minimum pricing.

But the alcohol industry said they demonstrated it was the Scottish culture, rather than just price and availability, which was driving the alcohol crisis.

The latest figures, revealed in a parliamentary answer by health secretary Nicola Sturgeon to SNP MSP Joe Fitzpatrick, showed Shettleston – which covers Calton and the Gorbals – had the highest rate of alcohol deaths in Scotland. It is also believed to have the highest rate in the UK at 84 deaths per 100,000.

Alcohol-related deaths were defined as those caused by conditions such as liver disease and alcohol poisoning. But the figures do not cover accidents linked to alcohol misuse or illnesses, such as cancer, where alcohol plays a part..

This means the actual rate of deaths linked to alcohol misuse will be far greater than the figures suggest.

In Glasgow Maryhill, the rate was more than four times the UK average at 420 per cent, while the rate in Greenock and Inverclyde was 371 per cent.

In Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale the rate was only 30 per cent – or less than a third – of the UK average.

The statistics showed just one of Scotland's 14 health boards had an alcohol-related death rate lower than the UK average – the NHS Borders, at 60 per cent. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had a rate of 267 per cent – nearly three times the UK average.

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Anne McLaughlin, SNP MSP for Glasgow, said: "These are shocking figures for Glasgow and show the scale of the challenge we face to tackle alcohol abuse.

"For six Glasgow constituencies to be among the ten highest death rates is a disturbing reality check for politicians, professionals and the drinks industry."

Dr Gerry Spence, a GP in Shettleston, said "We are seeing increasing amounts of alcohol being consumed over the years, and more problems with younger people.

"This has been going on for a number of years."

Dr Spence blamed the easy availability of cheap alcohol, saying it was "cheap as chips".

He said he had been "horrified" to see a two-for-one offer on three-litre bottles of cider at his local supermarket.

Dr Spence said marketing was also a problem, as well as deprivation. "Deprived people have a difficult enough lives and we shouldn't blame them for this problem," he said.

"This is firmly in the hands of government who have been unable to face up to the pressures the alcohol industry is putting on them."

Evelyn Gillan, from Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said consumption of alcohol in Scotland was higher than in England, helping explain the higher level of deaths. "There's more women in Scotland dying from alcohol related deaths than men in England," she said. "But we do drink more."

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Dr Gillan said there were many theories on why Scots drank more. "There's no question we have a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. There is a cultural thing but we can't ignore an environment which is more pro-alcohol than ever."

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland said:

"The BMA is convinced it is now time for Scotland to take the lead in tackling alcohol misuse.

"A wide-ranging strategy is essential including public health education, awareness raising and family and workplace interventions but central to this must be tough measures such as introducing minimum pricing, banning alcohol advertising and reducing the drink-driving limit."

But Gavin Partington, from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WHTA), said "Surely the argument is that the higher incidence of alcohol-related injuries in Scotland is due to a culture that leads people to drink more and at irresponsible and immoderate levels.

"If you are trying to address culture you need to come up with something more wide-ranging than simply questioning on price and promotion."

Mary Scanlon, Scottish Tory health spokeswoman said the figures were "shocking" but measures like pricing control would not solve the problem. "It is important the Scottish Government stops relying on blanket minimum pricing as a single tool solution," she said.