MINIMUM unit pricing (MUP) has reduced more deaths from alcohol than anticipated and cut hospital admissions while there has been no clear negative impact on the drinks industry, a new report has concluded.

Public Health Scotland (PHS) has published its final report on the five-year independent evaluation of MUP which concluded it had achieved its main goal of reducing alcohol harm, with the reduction in deaths and hospital admissions specific to the timing of MUP implementation.

Research back in March showed deaths directly caused by alcohol consumption had been reduced by 13.4% because of the world-leading policy.

Meanwhile, the report states hospital admissions have been cut by 4.1%, with the largest reductions seen in men and those living in the 40% most deprived areas in Scotland.

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The report estimates there were about 150 fewer deaths on average each year, and 400 fewer hospital admissions.

MUP was introduced in 2018 and requires all licensed premises in Scotland to set a floor price of 50p per unit of alcohol, below which it cannot be sold.

The report states MUP has also reduced alcohol consumption by 3% at a population level, as measured by retail sales. This was particularly driven by sales of cider and spirits with these products increasing most in price in supermarkets and shops.

However, it has been stressed by PHS that MUP alone is not enough to address Scotland’s ongoing problems with drink, while charities and support services have reiterated MUP needs to be uprated to at least 65p per unit to keep pace with inflation.

The Scottish Parliament is required to vote before May next year as to whether MUP will continue and whether any changes need to be made.

Clare Beeston, lead for the evaluation of MUP at PHS, said: “We have seen reductions in deaths and hospital admissions directly caused by sustained, high levels of alcohol consumption, and this is further evidence that those drinking at harmful and hazardous levels have reduced their consumption.

“MUP alone is not enough to address the specific and complex needs of those with alcohol dependence who will often prioritise alcohol over other needs, and it is important to continue to provide services and any wider support that addresses the root cause of their dependence.

“Those living in the most socioeconomically deprived areas in Scotland experience alcohol-specific death rates at least five times greater than those living in the least deprived areas. Alcohol-related disorders are a leading contributor to health inequalities in Scotland.

“Overall, the evidence shows that MUP has had a positive impact on improving health outcomes, including alcohol-related health inequalities, and can play a part in addressing the preventable harm that affect far too many people, families and communities.”

The National: Alison Douglas of Alcohol Focus Scotland is urging the Scottish Government to uprate MUPAlison Douglas of Alcohol Focus Scotland is urging the Scottish Government to uprate MUP (Image: NQ)

Alison Douglas, chief executive of charity Alcohol Focus Scotland, said it was clear MUP was life-saving but its positive effects will soon be lost if it is not urgently uprated.

Alcohol Focus and 29 other charities and medical organisations have called on the Government to uprate MUP to at least 65p per unit.

She said: “The Scottish Government was right to face down opposition from the alcohol industry who consistently put their profits above public health.

“Not only has MUP worked, it has out-performed our expectations.

“Now we know that MUP is truly life-saving, the policy must be continued, and the price increased. To scrap it now or leave it at a level that will quickly lose its effect would condemn hundreds of people to unnecessary suffering.

“Alcohol Focus Scotland and 29 charities and medical organisations have called on the Scottish Government to uprate the minimum unit price to at least 65p per unit. We hope the Parliament will come together again as it did in 2012, to optimise this policy, improve the nation’s health and reduce the burden on our NHS.”

The evaluation report shows that while the impact on alcoholic drink producers and retailers varied depending on the mix of products made or sold, there is no clear evidence of substantial negative impacts on the alcoholic drinks industry in Scotland as a whole.

However, the report noted evidence of negative consequences for those on low incomes who have well-established dependencies on alcohol.

The PHS report said there was “limited evidence” the scheme had reduced consumption among this group – and had even led to some prioritising spending their funds on alcohol rather than food.

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Drugs and Alcohol policy minister Elena Whitham said: “We’re determined to do all we can to reduce alcohol-related harm and, as this research demonstrates, our world-leading policy is saving lives, reducing alcohol harms and hospital admissions.

“Just one life lost to alcohol-related harm is one too many and my sympathy goes to all those who have lost a loved one.

“We know that additional support is needed for some groups. That’s why, alongside MUP, last year £106.8 million was made available to Alcohol and Drugs Partnerships to support local and national initiatives.

“We will now carefully consider this research as part of ongoing work on reviewing MUP.”