Thursday, 23 September 2010

Health Secretary to persevere with minimum pricing policy

The Health Secretary has not given up on minimum pricing. Not that I've got anything against a fighter, but it's hard to see the merits of a system where alcohol in Scotland is priced higher than its larger neighbour over the border: a border, moreover, that has no border controls. BBC reporter Brian Taylor's summary of the arguments and counter-arguments says that the main argument in favour is the support expressed by health service leaders and the police: not very persuasive against the arguments put forward by opponents to minimum pricing (it's really not enough to say that important people agree with you).

For me the Achilles heel was the claim that:

In the first year of such a policy, there would be 50 fewer deaths, 1,200 fewer hospital admissions, 400 fewer violent crimes and millions of pounds saved in healthcare ... 

Their claims are much less extravagant than they were prior to the smoking ban when it was claimed that 1,000 lives would be saved in Glasgow alone: in England an estimate in 2007 came in at 11,000 lives a year. Later that year back in Scotland we had Jill Pell announcing 17 per cent fewer heart attack admissions in the first year of the ban (never repeated, which is possibly why she had had to move on to another condition). Mortality statistics for Scotland reveal a steady decline in total mortality since 1999 and earlier (peaking in 1989 at nearly 34,000), steepest at 2003/4, rising slightly at 2007, and declining since.* Figures for the Glasgow area show nothing to support a claim that 1,000 fewer people have died every year since the smoking ban came in, hovering at 6.5 to 7.5K per year for both men and women.**

Saving fifty lives by comparison is quite a modest prediction, if hard to verify, but 400 fewer violent crimes and 1,200 fewer hospitalisations is hard to believe. How they come up with these figures is anybody's guess.
Whatever the legislation is meant to tackle, whether chronic drinking or anti-social behaviour, it won't help the situation if it turns out that the people causing the trouble are not mostly at the bottom of the economic heap, but it will hurt them just the same.

Tables from General Register Office for Scotland
*Deaths, by sex and age groups, Scotland, 1901 to 2009
**Deaths by sex, year and (post-April 2006) NHS Board area, 1991 to 2009

1 comment:

Smoked out said...

That didn't take long, did it? :)

l see Sheila is at it again on her blog. lnterestingly she puts this "The cost to the public purse in lost taxation runs into billions, money that is much needed to fund our public services."

... and your purse Sheila.