Map shows Humza Yousaf losing grip on Scotlands alcohol crisis

Humza Yousaf admits 'challenging' time for SNP

Many of the problems that weighed on the new Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf during his time as health secretary are bound to haunt his tenure. Perhaps chief among them is the nation’s alcohol crisis, which escalated in the years his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon was at the helm. Check’s maps and charts below to see just how things have become.

Ms Sturgeon’s stint as First Minister has been under heavy scrutiny ever since she announced her resignation on February 15. Among her most glaring failures is the growing number of alcohol-related deaths in the country.

Alcohol-specific deaths are those wholly caused by alcohol consumption. In 2021 in Scotland, they numbered 1,245. Although this is below the 1,417 high of 2006, it represents a 29 percent increase over the course of the past decade.

Public Health Scotland recorded 35,187 alcohol-related hospital admissions between April 2021 and March 2022, equivalent to one every 15 minutes according to charity Alcohol Focus Scotland.

Health Secretary only from December 2021 onwards, Mr Humza largely escapes the blame for the latest data, but alcohol deaths are without a doubt a major problem he must now solve.

Last year the World Health Organization (WHO) stated there was no safe amount of alcohol a person could consume that did not affect health, deeming it a “toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance” which causes one million deaths annually in Europe alone.

There were a record 9,641 deaths from alcohol-specific causes in the UK in 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – 7.4 percent higher than 2020 and 27.4 percent more than in 2019. The report claims people who were heavy drinkers before the pandemic drank more during lockdown years. 

There were 22.4 deaths per 100,000 in Scotland – more than any other region – compared to 19.3 in Northern Ireland, 15 in Wales and 13.9 in England.

The average number of units consumed per week by Scottish adults declined from 16.1 in 2003 to 11.3 in 2021, but Scottish men remain above the 14-unit threshold considered “low-risk”  by the NHS with 14.8.

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Zooming in on the local level shows just how bad the crisis is in a few critical areas. According to National Records of Scotland figures, rates of alcohol-specific mortality are just under six times higher in the most deprived areas relative to the least deprived. Inverclyde on the mainland’s Western coast fared worst of all at 31.7 deaths per 100,000, followed by Glasgow City (31) and West Dunbartonshire (30.6).

In a bid to tackle the issue, Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) was introduced in Scotland on May 1, 2018, at £0.50 per unit. The latest figures undermine the effectiveness of the policy.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “While England has seen the largest percentage increase in rates of alcohol-specific deaths over the last two years, Scotland still has overall higher rates of deaths. This is not good enough. 

She added: “We appear to accept this toll as inevitable, but we should not; each death can be prevented. The Scottish Government has recognised alcohol harm as a public health emergency alongside drugs, but we have not yet seen an emergency response on the same scale, they must act now.”

In March 2023 incumbent First Minister Humza Yousaf appointed former community safety minister Elena Whitham as Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy, tasking her with tackling both health crises.

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