ALCOHOL deaths have spiked to their highest level since the peak of the recession, with health boards that have slashed funding for problem drinking among the worst hit.

New figures show that six out of the seven health boards in Scotland which, combined, cut spending on Alcohol and Drug Partnerships (ADPs) by around £700,000 last year, also recorded a surge in the number of people dying as a result of alcohol abuse.

NHS Lanarkshire, which cut funding for ADPs by 10 per cent in 2016/17 - more than any other health board - experienced a 14 per cent year-on-year increase in alcohol-related deaths from 186 in 2015 to 212 in 2016, the highest number in the region for a decade.

Similar patterns emerged in Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Grampian, Orkney and Shetland. In Fife, alcohol-related deaths rose by 19 per cent to 74, the highest in five years, at the same time that funding for ADPs was cut by three per cent, while in Grampian a four per cent funding cut coincided with a record 110 deaths linked to problem drinking.

The statistics, produced by the National Records of Scotland, exclude suicides and accidental deaths where alcohol may have played a part.

It comes after a 22 per cent reduction in direct Scottish Government funding for ADPs, which coordinate local interventions to reduce drug and alcohol harm and support recovery. Health boards were expected to make up the difference to prevent a fall in spending, but half failed to do so. Only the Western Isles cut ADP funding without a corresponding increase in alcohol-related deaths, although the numbers are small.

At a national level, alcohol-related deaths rose 10 per cent year-on-year to 1,265 in 2016 - the highest in six years, and the largest annual increase since the 1990s.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said: “Providing support to those who have a drink problem is vital in helping to turn someone’s life around.

“The fact that under this SNP government we have seen huge cuts to Scotland’s network of alcohol and drug partnerships is clearly impacting on what support is available across communities.”

Scottish Labour’s inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon, who lost her own father to alcohol in 2015, added: "The Scottish Government must explain why alcohol-related deaths have increased by 10 per cent in the last year and prove it is willing to take bold action, both on prevention and in making sure the right support is in place for people, especially those affected by poverty. This is why Scottish Labour has opposed cuts to local alcohol-harm support services.”

However, alcohol campaigners have cautioned that it is still too early to determine the long-term effects of the funding cuts to ADPs as even health boards where the spending was either maintained or increased - namely Ayrshire and Arran, Borders and Greater Glasgow and Clyde - deaths linked to problem drinking still went up by between 10 to 19 per cent last year.

Dr Eric Carlin, director of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) said ADPs were "vitally important", but said: "The problem is we don't have enough data yet about what's happened at local level, and where health boards have reduced the funding we can't be sure at what stage this carries through to impact on people's health."

Dr Carlin added that delays to minimum pricing had probably cost more lives.

Bobby Miller, chair of the Lanarkshire ADP, stressed that recent Scotland-wide statistics had shown a decline in the number of Lanarkshire residents exceeding weekly drinking guidelines.

He added: "The average number of mean units consumed by both men and women, is also falling."

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said the Scottish Government would "move as quickly as is practicable" to implement minimum pricing if the Supreme Court allows it.

She added: "I will be refreshing our Alcohol Strategy later this year providing opportunity to further consider the additional actions and steps needed to tackle alcohol-related harm in Scotland.”