Scotland's alcohol death rates highest in UK

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image captionMinimum unit pricing was introduced in 2018 in a bid to cut consumption

Scotland has the highest rate of alcohol-specific deaths in the UK although rates have improved significantly in the past two decades, according to a new report.

The Office of National Statistics said the death rate in Scotland was twice that of England in 2018.

However, it said Scotland was the only UK nation where the rate improved significantly this century.

Charities said there was cause for optimism after the introduction of minimum unit pricing, but warned that further action was needed to curb alcohol harm.

The Scottish government introduced minimum unit pricing in May 2018 in a bid to cut consumption and save lives.

The new report said: "Despite Scotland's higher rate of alcohol-specific deaths, it remains the only UK constituent country to show statistically significant improvement when comparing with 2001 rates.

"In comparison, both England and Wales had statistically significant increases over the same period."

For men, the alcohol-specific death rate has decreased in Scotland by 25% this century, while for women the rate has fallen by 10% over the same period.

There were 29.4 deaths per 100,000 men in Scotland last year, down from 39.0 in 2001. The lowest UK rate for men was in England where there were 14.8 male deaths per 100,000 up from 12.3 in 2001.

For women in Scotland, the rate rose to 13.1 per 100,000 from 11.6 in 2017, but was still significantly lower than the 14.5 rate in 2001.

Three-quarters of alcohol-specific deaths were caused by alcoholic liver disease. Other causes included accidental poisoning and mental and behavioural problems caused by alcohol use.

The death rates across the UK, where a total of 7,551 deaths were recorded, were highest among people aged 55 to 59 years.

'Lives tragically cut short'

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: "Each death represents a life cut tragically short and many more scarred by loss. Every alcohol-related death is preventable and we should not be seeing these high numbers.

"Data published earlier this year showed that consumption in Scotland reduced by 3% in 2018.

"This gives us cause for optimism that minimum unit pricing appears to be having an effect on how much we are drinking and this should translate into improvements in health and wellbeing and fewer deaths."

A report published earlier this year showed that Scots bought less alcohol in 2018 than any year since records began in the early 1990s.

Ms Douglas added that there was still "a long way to go to turn the tide of alcohol harm in Scotland".

The charity has suggested the minimum price of alcohol could be increased and alcohol marketing restricted.

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