Reducing harm caused by alcohol


New release of alcohol related hospital admissions

Today [Tuesday 17 November 2020] Public Health Scotland published the alcohol-related hospital admissions data for 2019/20. The new figures showed that 23,685 people were hospitalised for alcohol-related reasons in 35,781 stays.

The annual statistics also revealed that people living in our most deprived areas were seven times more likely to be admitted to general acute hospitals for an alcohol-related condition than those in the least deprived areas.

Commenting on the new figures, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said,

“It’s disappointing to see such high numbers of people continuing to being admitted to hospital for reasons relating to alcohol. The overall level of hospitalisations in 2019/20 has remained similar to the previous years, and that is not good enough.

"Beneath the headline figures we have seen a worrying increase in admissions from people living in our most deprived communities. One of the key benefits of minimum unit pricing is that it can help to reduce health inequalities as it targets those at greatest risk: heavier, poorer drinkers. 

“We have already seen some positive signs that MUP is working, with a reduction of 4-5% in off-sales in Scotland compared to England and Wales in the first year. It is particularly encouraging that, as expected, it is those who are most at risk that have cut down most. This gives some cause for optimism that we should see this translate into improvements in health in future. Next week will see the publication of data on the number of alcohol-specific death in Scotland in 2019 which will give us further insight into harm trends. 

“However, the impact of 50p per unit is likely to have been eroded due to inflation during the eight years which have elapsed since Parliament passed the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012. We also now have more information about how MUP operates in practice. These data can help us recalibrate the price to ensure we maximise the benefits of this life-saving policy. AFS believes now is the time to review the level of the minimum unit price. 

“What happens going forward remains to be seen. It is difficult to predict the impact of COVID-19 on alcohol-related hospitalisations. On the one hand, many alcohol services have been disrupted during the coronavirus crisis and we have heard anecdotal reports that some service users’ conditions have worsened, requiring hospital treatment. On the other, there are reports of people staying away from hospital to avoid making demands on the NHS. Both of these are worrying as people need access to the right care at the earliest opportunity to avoid long-term issues.

“Helping people to reduce their alcohol consumption must remain a priority, both through the provision of accessible and recovery-oriented support but also by tackling how widely available alcohol is and how heavily it is marketed.”

Public Health Scotland explained that a range of issues are contributory factors in hopsital admissions. These figures relate only to admission due solely to acohol. These include conditions which after drinking over a relatively short period, such as acute intoxication (drunkenness) or poisoning (toxic effect). Others develop more gradually, only becoming evident after long-term heavy drinking, such as damage to the liver and brain.


17 November 2020.