Alcohol minimum pricing role for MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit

Published: 27 November 2017

The Scottish Government’s go-ahead for minimum unit pricing of alcohol will mean fresh impetus for evaluation research at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the UofG.

The Scottish Government’s announcement that minimum unit pricing of alcohol will be introduced in Scotland from 1 May next year will mean fresh impetus for evaluation research at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow.

The final go-ahead for the policy followed a lengthy legal battle mounted by the drinks industry, notably the Scotch Whisky Association. On 15 November the UK Supreme Court Judges ruled unanimously that the approach is a "proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".

Minimum unit pricing (MUP) aims to increase the price of the cheapest and/or strongest alcohol, thus reducing its affordability. There were 1,265 alcohol-related deaths in Scotland last year, an increase of 10% on 2015 - figures which the Scottish Government has described as "completely unacceptable".

World first

The policy is a world first and there is great interest from many quarters across the world including from policy makers, health professionals, and researchers.

The results of implementation of MUP will be monitored in a study funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), led by the Glasgow-based Unit.

Chief investigator Professor Alastair Leyland said: “Scotland will be the first country to introduce a minimum unit price (MUP) and so there has been little previous evaluation of its impacts.

“A number of possible consequences – favourable and adverse – have been identified. Once implemented, policy in Scotland will differ from that in England presenting the ideal opportunity to study the direct impact of introducing MUP.”

Alastair will be joined by Dr Shona Hilton and Dr Vittal Katikireddi from the Unit, and colleagues from NHS Health Scotland, ISD (NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division), and the Universities of Stirling, Aberdeen, Kings College London, and Victoria University, Melbourne.

The team aims to understand the experience of MUP and explore the potential mechanisms that may result in unanticipated benefits and harms and how these may differ between groups.

Reducing health harms

This study will look to determine the impacts (including whether these differ by age or deprivation) of alcohol MUP on selected acute health harms and unintended consequences that may occur. It will assess changes in alcohol-related attendances, and changes in the extent of hazardous and harmful drinking, in emergency departments in Scotland compared to North England. This will help establish whether MUP achieves its stated aim of reducing health harms.

Professor Leyland continued: “The findings will be of interest to policy makers and the public in Scotland, the UK and internationally. It is expected that alcohol-related attendances at emergency departments will decrease. However, drinkers may avoid paying the increased price if they start buying alcohol not subject to MUP such as via the internet or across the border. There may be some adverse consequences if drinkers switch to illicit alcohol or other drugs.”

First published: 27 November 2017