Alcohol

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:38 pm on 25th October 2007.

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Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 4:38 pm, 25th October 2007

I agree that the debate has been a good one in which many excellent speeches have been made.

In particular, I commend the last line of the Government's motion, in which it

"notes the need for the NHS to play its part in early identification and intervention for those individuals drinking at harmful or hazardous levels."

I look forward to hearing further information from the cabinet secretary on that. As many members, including Kenny Gibson, said, help comes only when someone recognises that they have a problem. Often, someone seeks help only when they have lost their job and family and they are in dreadful health.

An article in The Press and Journal this week highlighted the problem of drink and young offenders. The article was based on research by the governor of HMP Barlinnie and academics at Glasgow Caledonian University. It was found that, in 1979, just under 50 per cent of young offenders aged between 16 and 21 were drunk at the time of their offence. That figure has risen to 74 per cent this year. Another startling comparison that the study revealed was that, in 1979, 7 per cent of young offenders were drunk daily before they were convicted of a crime, whereas the figure today has rocketed to 40 per cent. Those are alarming figures that alone undoubtedly justify the holding of alcohol awareness week and of this debate.

Dave Thompson spoke about the Highlands, where there are particular issues. According to the recent crime figures, the recorded rate of drunkenness in the Highlands is high, and it is rising at a faster rate than anywhere else in Scotland.

It is right, during Scotland's first alcohol awareness week, to highlight the fact that the consumption of alcohol has increased by 23 per cent over the past decade. That has a cost for people all over Scotland—in health, justice and social services—of more than £1 billion per annum, not to mention the huge cost on families, with up to 100,000 young people living with a parent who has an alcohol problem. That is why the Scottish Conservatives will continue to work towards our manifesto commitment to invest £100 million in drug and alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation facilities. That is a clear investment to save, not only in public services and health but in supporting families. That point was acknowledged by Kenny Gibson.

Twenty-five per cent of women in Scotland exceed the recommended daily limit, which has contributed to the doubling of alcohol-related deaths among women over the past 10 years. More than half of all alcohol-related deaths have a diagnosis of alcoholic liver disease, and the problems are worsening. The number of patients who have been discharged from hospitals in the Highlands with alcoholic liver disease has trebled over the past decade. In the Western Isles, it has quadrupled.

On the subject of labelling, the Minister for Public Health said in an interview on 22 October:

"It can be difficult to know how much you are drinking when drinks can vary so much in size and strength."

If I have learned something this week, it is that one glass of wine is not the same as another glass of wine—it is not a homogenous product. We sometimes get conflicting messages. We are often told that a glass of wine at night is good for our health, in particular the circulation, but we do not know whether the alcohol content of that glass should be 3 per cent or 14 per cent. The Scottish Conservatives would welcome and support clear information on the strength of drink, which should be more clearly labelled.

We acknowledge that many people drink more than the recommended limits and that many people have serious alcohol addictions, but what happens when they ask for help—for detox and rehab? I agree with Paul Martin about the excellent work that Alcoholics Anonymous does. I point out to Ian McKee that Beechwood house in Inverness is a similar facility to the one in Aberdeen that he mentioned.

I asked a parliamentary question on detox and rehab. I was initially told that the information is "not held centrally". The answer from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing on 3 August was:

"The varied range of alcohol detoxification and rehabilitation services and the different ways of accessing these services has meant it is not possible to collect waiting time information.

We will give further consideration to the feasibility of collecting such information in the future."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 3 August 2007; S3W-2338.]

I agree with Ian McKee that, when people need and ask for help, they should not be placed on a waiting list and told to come back after a number of months. That is why I raised the issue of waiting times with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing yesterday.

I look forward to the Justice Committee, the Health and Sport Committee and the Local Government and Communities Committee working together to better scrutinise the budget so as to understand where the budget commitments lie in this area.

Many people with alcohol problems have underlying mental health issues, such as depression, but many treatment establishments will treat either alcoholism or mental health. As people cannot be in two places at once, we need to ensure that treatment centres are fit for purpose. I have recently been supporting a constituent who has bipolar disorder and is an alcoholic. According to him, he could find only one place in Scotland where he could have joint treatment, which was the Priory clinic in Glasgow.

I welcome the debate and acknowledge that we still have a long way to go to deal with the alcohol problem in Scotland.