THE chair of North Ayrshire’s licensing board has admitted she’s “troubled” by an increase in the number of deaths caused solely by alcohol.

According to new government figures there were 1,190 deaths in Scotland in which alcohol was described as the sole cause of death on a person’s death certificate during 2020 – 44 of them in North Ayrshire.

And that was despite so many pubs being closed.

But local licensing chair Eleanor Collier is hoping the national and local trend can be reversed.

She said: “The recent Public Health Scotland MESAS (Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy) monitoring report noted that population-level alcohol consumption and alcohol harm had fallen in Scotland since 2003, but it did highlight the increase in the total number of deaths due to a cause wholly attributable to alcohol. 

“As chair of the licensing board, I am obviously greatly troubled by these figures and of particular concern is the higher level of alcohol-related mortality rates reported in our deprived areas.

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"Every life lost in this way is a tragedy and I commiserate with the families and friends who have lost loved ones.

“It is recognised that the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 have contributed to these figures as despite pubs and restaurants being either completely closed or operating with severe restrictions, alcohol consumption increased overall alongside a reduction in the access to healthcare facilities and other addiction and health support resources. 

“As Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, recently said, Scotland has made good progress in addressing the problems we have with alcohol by introducing policies like minimum unit pricing which is showing promising results.

“Yet the impact of the pandemic threatens to undermine this progress. Many people, particularly heavier drinkers, have reported that they have increased their drinking during the last 18 months. The effects are felt most by those living in our poorest communities, who are more likely to die due to alcohol.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends several measures which can reduce the harmful use of alcohol, but the two most effective measures shown to reduce social harm are price and availability.

Councillor Collier added: “The availability of alcohol can be controlled by the number and type of licensed premises, licensed hours and the size or capacity of premises.

“In all cases the board starts from a presumption of refusal, and it is for an applicant to persuade the board why their case should be treated as an exception.”