A DIRECTOR of one of Scotland’s largest social care agencies has said he is “disappointed but not surprised” that the number of alcohol related deaths in Scotland has increased by 5% in the last 12 months.
Calum Murray, director of adult care at CrossReach which operates alcohol support services across the country, today said it was a “logical” outcome given local authorities had less money to pay providers due to budget cuts.
Official figures published by the Scottish Government yesterday showed that 1,152 people died of alcohol related illnesses last year – 784 men and 368 women.
By contrast, 1,100 people died in 2013 – 741 men and 359 women.
CrossReach, which is the social care arm of the Church of Scotland, operates alcohol support services in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Stornoway, Inverness and Arbroath and supports around 170 people each year.
Mr Murray, who is based in Perth, said: “I am disappointed there has been an increase in deaths because there has been a lot of effort for a long time now to try and combat the negative effects of Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.
“It is a very difficult challenge but there has been a reduction in funding available for alcohol prevention and treatment therapies for some years now.
“As a major provider of rehabilitation services, we have seen a number of services closed due to insufficient funding being made available for alcohol services.
“Some of our counselling services that specialise in supporting people with alcohol problems have struggled to get funding for the work that they do because there is no statutory obligation on local authorities to fund them.
“We can hardly be surprised that these figures come at a time when there has been a diminution in funding to such services.”
The figures showed that the death rate is highest among people aged 45-59. There were 482 cases in 2014 in comparison to 472 in 2013 and 420 in 2012.
Mr Murray said the figures illustrated that society was now “reaping the rewards” of funding cuts to alcohol support services.
“While I am disappointed I am not surprised – it is logical that these figures are going up,” he added.
CrossReach also provides drug support services and Mr Murray, whilst welcoming the funding the Scottish Government was prioritising for these services, indicated that this should not be at the cost of investment in alcohol support services.
“There has been a growing drugs problem but far and away Scotland has a much bigger problem with alcohol – there is so much hidden harm because it is not illegal and seen as socially acceptable,” he said.
Mr Murray said the government must continue to try and introduce a minimum pricing for alcohol policy which would be set at 50p per unit to increase the cost of cheap beers, ciders, wine and spirits.
The public health measure, which is supported by the Church of Scotland, is currently being debated in the courts due to action brought forward by the Scotch Whisky Association, which claims it breaches European law.
Mr Murray said: “The government is on the right track with that because alcohol is too cheap, cheaper than water in some cases which is clearly wrong.
“I would commend it for some degree of perseverance.”