Review forces SNP to amend alcohol policy claims
The Scottish government has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown over claims that a report into deaths caused by excessive drinking justified its policy of hiking the cost of alcohol.
Ministers have been accused of using selective statistics to support the positive impact of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in reducing alcohol deaths and hospital admissions.
It has emerged that the Scottish government based a press release issued to that effect on one set of findings from 40.
Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the Scottish Conservative health spokesman, complained to the UK Statistics Authority after the Public Health Scotland (PHS) report said that alcohol deaths had fallen by more than 10% and hospital admissions directly linked to alcohol consumption fell by 4.1%.
The latest statistics, published on Tuesday, show that the number of alcohol-related deaths has reached its highest level in 14 years.
The UK Statistics Authority has now forced the Scottish Government to amend its press release.
After a long battle, including a legal challenge from the alcohol industry, MUP was introduced in May 2018 and imposed a 50p minimum charge per unit of alcohol. There has been recent pressure for MUP to be raised further.
Following a review by Sir Robert Chote, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, PHS has updated its summarised document to make clear the reductions in alcohol sales, deaths and hospitalisations were “estimates”.
Dr Gulhane accused the Scottish government of “playing politics” with the country’s alcohol crisis and said ministers had been “shamefully spinning inconclusive data and pressuring PHS to alter its report to support their study”.
He called on First Minister Humza Yousaf to apologise after the party’s complaint to the UK Statistics Authority was upheld.
He said: “My concern from the outset was that the SNP were misrepresenting the evidence by cherry-picking one report out of 40 to back their stance.
“That concern has been vindicated by the UK Statistics Authority, whose analysis has forced the Scottish government to amend its own press release.”
He added: “The reality is MUP is not the panacea that the SNP would have us believe. At best the jury is still out on its effectiveness, given alcohol-related deaths continue to rise in Scotland several years after it was introduced.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Public Health Scotland’s evaluation, published in June, estimated that minimum unit pricing has saved hundreds of lives, averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions, and is having a positive effect in our most deprived areas.
“This news release was updated to make it clear that the reductions in alcohol sales, deaths and hospital admissions are estimates. This was done following engagement with the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR).
“Both the Scottish government and PHS engaged with OSR and small revisions have been made to the Scottish government news release and the PHS ‘findings at a glance’ document.
“The wording around the number of studies involved was also revised in the [government’s] news release to make PHS’s conclusions clearer and PHS has emphasised there is no change to the findings or the interpretation of the findings.”