RCPsych Wales - Minimum Unit Pricing of Alcohol
26 February, 2020
On the 2 March, the minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol legislation comes into effect in Wales. This will set a baseline price of 50p for each unit of alcohol (10ml of pure alcohol). The aim of this legislation is to reduce the excessive consumption of alcohol and the associated, preventable, harms.
A MUP for alcohol has been in effect in Scotland since May 2018. The statistics of alcohol related deaths in Scotland since the introduction of MUP will not be available until September 2020, however, since the introduction of this law, Scotland, which had the highest rate of alcohol specific deaths in the UK, has seen the amount of alcohol purchased by its citizens reduce1.
Alcohol consumption is a major preventable cause of death in Wales, with 1 in 20 deaths being attributed to alcohol2 and 22% of the population consuming 75% of all alcohol drunk in Wales. In 2016 alone there were 54,000 alcohol related hospital admissions, showing that alcohol abuse places a heavy burden on the NHS Wales3.
Harmful drinkers are more likely to consume alcohol priced at less than 50p per unit compared to those who consume alcohol in moderation. The MUP will place cheap alcohol further outside of the budget of these drinkers in the hopes that this will discourage drinking to excess.
This does lead to the concern that, rather than discouraging alcohol abuse, the MUP will impact those with less income as they may spend more on drink at the cost of other expenses. There is also the worry that those with an alcohol dependency will turn to street drugs to combat withdrawal. So far it is unclear whether the MUP in Scotland has led to an increased consumption of illegal narcotics.
After the implementation of the MUP, RCPsych Wales expects to see an initial increase in the number of referrals to Community Mental Health Teams as well as Community Drug and Alcohol Teams as people seek treatment for alcohol addictions. This would be welcomed by the College as it would show that the MUP is having the desired effect of discouraging harmful drinking.
Furthermore, a study by researchers at the Sheffield University, commissioned by the Welsh Government, showed that an MUP of 50p would result in 53 fewer alcohol related deaths per year, 1,400 fewer hospital admissions and save the public purse £882m in 20 years4. Their modelling also showed that an increase in MUP correlates with a decrease in harm.
“In Wales each year, 1 in 20 of all deaths are for reasons relating to alcohol. At any time around 1 in 10 people staying in hospital in Wales are dependent on alcohol.
There is a growing body of evidence that managing the price per unit of alcohol helps to reduce heavy drinking and therefore the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) in Wales aims to reduce these figures.”
Dr Faye Graver, RCPsych Wales addictions chair
The College supports the MUP being set at 50p initially, however feels this should be reviewed annually, as is the case in Canada and Australia. This will allow the assessment of the impact which the MUP is having on alcohol consumption and provide the option for changing it accordingly.
For more information about the minimum unit pricing for alcohol, please view the attached brochures.
1. According to data from NHS Health Scotland
2. Public health Wales 2014
3. Public Health Wales (2016) Piecing the puzzle: The annual profile for substance misuse. NHS Wales.
4. Meng Y. et al. (2014); Sheffield: ScHARR, University of Sheffield.