PLANS to ban shops from selling alcohol before 5pm would "rebound" on the health service and lead addicts to stockpile drink, it has been claimed.

The NHS has proposed a dramatic curb on licensing hours, cutting back the time supermarkets can sell alcohol by as many as seven hours per day

A report on substance abuse by public health experts from NHS Shetland, to be considered in the coming months by the local authority, highlights figures that around three quarters of all alcohol consumed in Scotland was now bought from supermarkets or off licences.

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It calls for restrictions "so that off-sales are not permitted until late afternoon or evening rather than from 10am".

Other suggestions included a separate aisle for alcohol away from the main shop floor, preventing small shops from displaying alcohol behind the counter.

But a former advisor to the Scottish Government on licensing laws described the move as “another example of a war on alcohol that has reached fever pitch”.

Jack Cummins, one of the country’s leading licensing experts, said the NHS was in danger of damaging its credibility in helping shape alcohol policy and adding that several of the Shetland proposals were already enshrined in law.

He said: “The notion that steps will, or should, be taken to ban shops from selling alcohol until late afternoon or early evening is beyond fantastical. It might even have a rebound effect, with sensible drinkers as well as alcohol abusers resorting to stockpiling.

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“But while it’s tempting simply to dismiss this idea as a plan from Planet Zorg, there are troubling aspects to the report’s approach. In the first place, there’s a real risk that proposals smacking of zealotry will rob the NHS of any input into licensing policy.

“Secondly, the size and location of alcohol displays in shops is already regulated by licensing boards and it’s far from clear that the report recognises these controls.”

Elizabeth Robinson, a public health expert at NHS Shetland and one of the report’s authors, said she would suggest 5pm as the earliest time for off-sales to serve customers but the exact hours remained up for discussion.

She said: “If you see dependence on alcohol as an illness, which a lot of people would, you would want to do everything you could to support them and help them get better, in the same way as you would with cancer.”

Legislation introduced just seven years ago allows shops to sell alcohol from 10am. It comes after the Scottish Government won its legal battle over the introduction of minimum unit pricing, which would set a floor price for cheap lagers and spirits.

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It also emerged during the summer that ministers are considering a national target to reduce alcohol consumption.

Figures unveiled in May showed around 10.8 litres of pure alcohol was sold per adult last year, the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka, reversing the downward trend over most of the last decade and with cheaper supermarket sales being blamed.

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said health boards were well placed to provide licensing boards with information, evidence and recommendations on harmful drinking.

She added: “Licensed hours should be part of this consideration as... longer hours can be associated with increases in alcohol harm.”

The Scottish Government said: “We have no plans to nationally amend licensing hours and it is for licensing boards to determine any new application. But we are clear we need to do more to tackle Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”