FORTY GPs representing Scotland’s most deprived communities have claimed their patients would receive the greatest direct benefit from a minimum unit price for alcohol.

In a letter to the Herald ahead of a Supreme Court hearing on the SNP’s flagship plan, the doctors said a recent study found poor Scots suffered more health problems than others drinking the same amount, and so would "have most to gain" from the policy.

The medics also said they were increasingly frustrated at legal delays to the initiative.

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Plans for a 50p minimum unit price (MUP) were passed by Holyrood with cross-party support in 2012, but have been tangled up in court challenges from the drinks industry ever since.

Last year, Scotland’s highest court ruled the flagship health policy did not breach EU law.

However the Scotch Whisky Association and two groups of EU wine and spirit producers have appealed to the UK Supreme Court, with a two-day hearing due to start on July 24.

The Scottish Government says minimum unit pricing would save around 500 lives a year by hiking the price of cheap but potent drinks.

A bottle of wine at 12.5 per cent alcohol would cost a minimum of £4.69, a 70cl bottle of 40 per cent whisky would be £14, and a bottle of strong cider at 5.3 per cent at least £4.67.

The drinks industry claims such pricing is “disproportionate as a matter of EU law”, and restricts the free movement of goods and impacts on the sale and marketing of wine.

They also claim other measures could be used just as effectively to improve public health.

However the GPs, who are part of the Scottish Government-backed Deep End scheme encouraging doctors to work in deprived areas, say there is outstanding merit in a MUP.

They write: “We deal on a daily basis with the damaging consequences of alcohol on the physical and mental health of our patients and their families, including avoidable premature deaths, long term illness and misery. The detrimental effects on children of growing up in affected households are profound and long lasting.

“The findings of a recently published Scottish study add to our frustration at the delay in implementing Minimum Unit Pricing for alcohol.

“It demonstrates people living in disadvantaged communities are much more likely to suffer harm and premature death, compared to others consuming similar amounts of alcohol.

“Critics of MUP say it will penalise poor communities most. On the contrary, they have most to gain. Our call to legislators, politicians and civil servants is - make it happen!”

Karen Betts, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “We are committed to tackling alcohol misuse in partnership with governments, the health sector and charities; and the industry works hard and in a variety of ways to promote responsible drinking and to support the downward trend in alcohol-related harm.

"But we believe minimum unit pricing would be ineffective in tackling misuse and, along with others, we believe it is an illegal trade barrier.

“Research shows the number of hazardous and harmful drinkers would not fall as a result of minimum unit pricing and that it would penalise responsible drinkers.

"We want to work with the government and other stakeholders on targeted measures that would help address why people abuse alcohol and change culture and attitudes to alcohol, particularly in disadvantaged communities.”

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: “While progress has been made in tackling alcohol misuse, we want to go further. That is why we need minimum unit pricing and I’m pleased it continues to be supported by such a wide range of health professionals.

“Our Framework for Action outlines more than 40 measures to reduce alcohol-related harm, including the quantity discount ban and a ban on irresponsible promotions.

“We’re looking forward to the judgment of the Supreme Court on Minimum Unit Pricing and if it is the positive outcome we hope for we will move as quickly as is practicable to put the policy in place.”