That the financial cost to NHS Shetland of alcohol abuse is so high will perhaps come as no great surprise. The true cost, in harm – and death – caused to individuals who over-indulge, to families and children (physical and psychological) and to victims of alcohol-fuelled crime, is of course much greater, if more difficult to quantify.
The financial cost to Scotland of alcohol abuse – and the international reputation it has as a heavy drinking nation – prompted the SNP government at Holyrood to bring forward a series of sensible public policy measures last year, including a modest minimum pricing scheme aimed at tackling the ready availability of cheap booze.
The latter was rejected by MSPs, including Shetland’s Tavish Scott and Labour and Conservative members. It is ironic that the figures we publish today were unearthed by one of those Labour MSPs, Rhoda Grant.
The objections raised against the minimum pricing scheme, which has widespread backing from the medical profession, leave a lot to be desired. They smack of an unwillingness to confront the powerful drinks industry and in some cases indicate that the message about alcohol abuse is not getting through.
A minimum pricing scheme would not eradicate the problem – no public policy will ever succeed entirely – but it would be a signal that politicians take it seriously and are willing to make difficult choices for the betterment of society. So far there is little evidence of this. Next year’s figures will spell out the consequences.