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by Louise Wilson
30 August 2023
Humza Yousaf urged to apologise over ‘misleading’ minimum unit pricing claims

Humza Yousaf urged to apologise over ‘misleading’ minimum unit pricing claims

Humza Yousaf has been urged to apologise for “shamefully spinning inconclusive data” in relation to minimum unit pricing for alcohol. 

The Scottish Conservatives wrote to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) following the publication of a report and government press release in June which hailed the policy as a success in saving lives. 

Following investigation, the UKSA concluded the Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland had not made reference to uncertainty around reductions in hopsitalisation and death. 

Sir Robert Chote, chair of UKSA, said: “Summarising technical data, especially for a public audience, is challenging. Press releases, factsheets, tweets and other communications require condensed information, but it still serves users best to include caveats about the uncertainty or limitations of statistical evidence.  

“In this case, caveats did not carry through from the final PHS report to the press release and ‘at a glance’ document.” 

As a result of the intervention, both press release and summary document have been updated to emphasis uncertainty around the estimated figures. 

Tory health spokesperson Sandesh Gulhane said: “This crisis demands a clear-headed, data-led response from the SNP government – rather than ministers shamefully spinning inconclusive data and pressuring PHS to alter its report to support their policy. 

“The reality is MUP is not the panacea that the SNP would have us believe. At best, the jury is still out on its effectiveness, given alcohol-related deaths continue to rise in Scotland several years after it was introduced. 

“Humza Yousaf and his ministers need to apologise for misleading the public over MUP.” 

Figures published yesterday showed 1,276 people lost their lives to alcohol-related deaths in 2022, the highest figure since 2008. 

Responding to those figures, alcohol minister Elena Whitham highlighted research had “estimated [MUP] has saved hundreds of lives, likely averted hundreds of alcohol-attributable hospital admissions each year and also contributed to reducing health inequalities”. 

Earlier this month a group of health experts wrote to The Lancet to express concern about the Scottish Conservatives’ complaint to the UKSA.

They warned that in doing so, the party “gives the impression of seeking to undermine the policy” in an area where there are “commercial and political interests at play”.

Defending the approach taken by Public Health Scotland to evaluate the impact of MUP, the letter – which is signed by members of the Independent Commission on Alcohol Harm, among others – says: “Policy makers can be confident that there are several hundred people with low income in Scotland who would have died as a result of alcohol, who are alive today as a result of minimum unit pricing.”

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