Twice as many Scots die from drink than in rest of the UK

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"As the chief medical officer said in his most recent annual report, alcohol-related harm is one of the top public health concerns in Scotland. Everyone has a role to play in changing our drinking culture." - ANDY KERR, HEALTH MINISTER

Story in full SCOTS are twice as likely to suffer an alcohol-related death as people in the rest of the United Kingdom, research revealed yesterday.

As the Scottish Executive outlined its latest efforts to tackle the nation's deadly relationship with drink, official figures showed the extent of the battle they face.

Fifteen of the 20 local authority areas with the highest alcohol-related male death rates were in Scotland, with Glasgow top of the league with 83.7 deaths per 100,000.

The figures also revealed wide variations across Scotland, with Aberdeenshire reporting a death rate only a sixth of that in Glasgow.

Scotland's poor record on alcohol-related ill-health has been long known, but critics have attacked what they see as political inaction over the issue.

In response, ministers have stressed the part that personal responsibility must play in combating alcohol abuse, while promising improved education and schemes to improve awareness of sensible drinking.

Previously published figures showed there were 2,372 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland in 2005, an increase of 72 per cent since 1995.

The Office for National Statistics analysed geographical variations in drink-related death rates in the UK between 1998 and 2004, revealing wide differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

In 2002-4, there were 39.1 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 men in Scotland, compared with a UK figure of 17.4. Among Scots women, the rate was 15.7 per 100,000, compared with 8.1 for the UK.

Fourteen of the worst areas in the UK for women's alcohol- related deaths were in Scotland, with Glasgow again leading the way on 30.9 per 100,000, followed by Dundee on 22.2.

The lowest rate for women in Scotland was in East Renfrewshire, at seven per 100,000.

Jack Law, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "We need to ask what is so different about Scotland's drinking culture, compared with the rest of the UK. Forty-five Scots are now dying because of drink every single week.

"Much more work needs to be done to reach people in the most deprived social groups, because they are most likely to die from alcohol abuse."

Professor Peter Brunt, vice president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said the figures should provide a stark warning.

"It is evident that Scotland has a significantly higher level of alcohol-related deaths across all age groups, in males and females, and regardless of where we live.

"We cannot afford to remain complacent and believe that alcohol-related health problems are the preserve of 'alcoholics' or binge drinkers. Alcohol can adversely affect us all."

The British Medical Association said that the low cost of alcohol needed to be addressed to cut deaths and ill-health.

"Doctors want to see an end to the ridiculous pricing of alcohol for off-sales." Peter Terry, the chairman of BMA Scotland, said. "When alcohol is cheaper than bottled water, we have to worry about what message we are sending our children."

Shona Robison, the health spokeswoman for the SNP, said: "These figures make highly disturbing reading for us all.

"It's a national tragedy that Scotland's record of alcohol- related deaths is now twice as bad as anywhere else in the UK, and that the situation is worsening, not improving."

Nanette Milne, the Scottish Conservatives' health spokeswoman, said more action was needed to address alcohol abuse. "Every six hours, someone in Scotland dies from alcohol abuse," she said.

"These stark statistics are the most visible consequence of the damage that excessive drinking can create - but behind the figures are real lives that have been destroyed and grieving families devastated."

Andy Kerr, the health minister, admitted yesterday there was "no silver bullet" to solve Scotland's alcohol woes as he published the updated alcohol action plan.

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said the problems were well recognised.

"As the chief medical officer said in his most recent annual report, alcohol-related harm is one of the top public health concerns in Scotland.

"Everyone has a role to play in changing our drinking culture," he said.

Fresh action plan 'not enough' despite launch of helpline

A PHONE service to help problem drinkers, and more awareness campaigns, were announced yesterday in a bid to combat alcohol abuse.

Andy Kerr, the health minister, published the long-awaited update to Scotland's alcohol action plan of 2002. But he faced criticism that the new plan had changed little, and had failed to address issues such as the low cost of alcohol.

A new telephone line will be tested to support people with a possible alcohol problem.

This could mean that if a doctor or nurse finds out that someone in A&E has been injured as a result of alcohol, the patient could be referred for help before it gets worse.

Mr Kerr also revealed plans to roll-out a test purchasing scheme to crack down on retailers selling to under-18s, following a successful pilot in Fife. Youths aged under 18 are sent into shops to see if they can buy alcohol. If they can, a shop could lose its licence.

The Executive also published a partnership agreement signed by brewers such as Tennent Caledonian promising to look at ways to tackle alcohol misuse.

But Jack Law, chief executive of the Alcohol Focus Scotland, said the agreement was "rather vague" and repeated initiatives already under way.

The plan also came under fire from the Scottish Grocers' Federation, which said it failed to deliver on previous promises for a national proof-of-age scheme.