Medical experts defend minimum alcohol pricing report after 'misleading' claim

Group defended report into 'positive' impact of policy after Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said it was 'misleading.'

Medical experts defend minimum alcohol pricing report after ‘misleading’ claim STV News

A group of medical experts have defended an agency’s research into the effects of alcohol minimum unit pricing (MUP), saying a Conservative MSP was wrong to challenge it.

The group backed the approach taken by Public Health Scotland (PHS) in evaluating the impact of the policy, which imposed a charge of at least 50p per unit.

In June, a final report by PHS found there had been a “positive impact”, with alcohol deaths reducing by more than a tenth and hospital admissions directly related to alcohol consumption dropping by 4.1% since the policy was introduced in May 2018.

However, Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the report was “misleading” and overstated the effects of MUP.

He called on the UK Statistics Authority to review the report.

The group of experts, whose letter is published in The Lancet, includes representatives from the British Medical Association, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the European Alcohol Policy Alliance and academics.

Scottish Conservative MSP Dr Sandesh GulhaneSTV News

They said: “Comparing trends in Scotland and England, including during the pandemic when alcohol deaths were increasing in many countries, is an entirely appropriate approach.

“This summary of MUP research is comprehensive, including interviews with individuals who fear the policy will be detrimental to them personally and or financially.

“The Public Health Scotland approach of emphasising population level findings is the right one for assessing population level interventions like minimum unit price.

“The alternatives proposed by the Scottish Conservatives are neither feasible nor appropriate.”

The letter concludes that policymakers “can be confident that there are several hundred low-income people in Scotland, who would have died from alcohol, who are alive today as a result of minimum unit pricing”.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems said “robust and reliable” research is vital.

Chairman Dr Alastair MacGilchrist said: “Alcohol is killing three people in Scotland every day and hospitalising 100 more.

“It is time to take the political heat out of this debate and view the situation for what it is, a public health crisis which requires decisive and meaningful action.”

In response to the open letter, Dr Gulhane was adamant that he was right to question the PHS study.

He said: “I resolutely stand by the points I raised in my letter to the UK Statistics Authority.

“The conclusion in the Public Health Scotland report about the purported effectiveness of minimum unit pricing was not supported by ’40 independent research publications’, as the Scottish Government claimed.

“I have since spoken to two statistics experts who agree with my views.

“We need to look at MUP with an open mind and analyse the evidence, rather than try to spin it to suit a pre-determined narrative.”

The Conservatives said an upcoming report into Scottish alcohol deaths was expected to show a further increase this year.

They said doctors from Taiwan had written to The Lancet on July 29 questioning the methodology in the PHS report.

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