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Charities call for minimum alcohol price rise

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Organisations say the pandemic has led to changing drinking patterns

Alcohol prices in Scotland should be increased immediately to counteract a spike in deaths associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, a coalition of doctors and charities have said.

A group of 28 organisations including the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs have written to the Scottish Government urging it to act.

They are calling for the minimum unit price (MUP) of alcohol to be raised from 50p to 65p, highlighting modelling showing that this could save twice as many lives.

However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon indicated on Thursday that the policy would have to be fully reviewed before any price rise, with a final evaluation not due until 2023.

Scotland became the first country in the world to introduce minimum unit pricing in May 2018, putting a floor price of 50p on every unit of alcohol sold in shops.

Its aim was to cut alcohol-related deaths by targeting products with a high alcohol content that were previously sold extremely cheaply and favoured by problem drinkers.

In the two years following the policy’s introduction there was a reduction in alcohol consumption and there was also a 10% decrease in alcohol-specific deaths in 2019.

But deaths rose by 17% last year to 1,190, the highest toll since 2008, which has been put down to changing drinking patterns during the pandemic.

In a letter to health secretary Humza Yousaf and public health minister Maree Todd, the organisations said this has “undermined the initial health gains made”.

“Now is the time for the minimum price to be uprated. It is widely acknowledged that the current 50p per unit has likely been eroded by inflation over the last nine years,” they added.

Asked whether she would consider increasing the minimum price during First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, the First Minister said an evaluation was “ongoing”.

“A final report from Public Health Scotland is expected in 2023,” she added. “Of course, any change to the level, or to any detail, of the minimum unit pricing policy must have a robust evidence base.”

However, she also acknowledged that the policy must “take account of changes” since the pandemic and that the price would be kept “under review”