A Tory MSP has written to the UK statistics watchdog to complain of “misleading” Scottish Government claims relating to a report on minimum unit pricing (MUP).

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, his party’s health spokesman, wrote to the head of the UK Statistics Authority, accusing the Scottish Government of “grossly misleading” the public.

Last week, Public Health Scotland released its final report on MUP – a policy which instituted a 50p minimum charge per unit of alcohol in a drink in a bid to curb alcohol harms.

The report found there had been a “positive impact”, with alcohol deaths reducing by more than a tenth and hospital admissions directly related to alcohol consumption dropping by 4.1%.

Read more: Minimum unit pricing 'prevented hundreds of alcohol deaths'

The study found that MUP has reduced alcohol deaths by 13.4% since its introduction despite limited evidence of reducing consumption among low income alcoholics.

The 50p minimum charge placed on each unit of alcohol in 2018 has had a “positive impact”, according to the independent evaluation.

While alcohol deaths reduced by more than a tenth, the report also noted that hospital admissions due to direct alcohol consumption fell by 4.1%, with the largest reduction seen in men and those living in the 40% most deprived areas.

The report estimates there were about 150 fewer deaths on average each year, and 400 fewer hospital admissions.

Based on retail sales, a 3% reduction in alcohol consumption was seen at a population level.

Read more: Is alcohol heading for the same marketing curbs as tobacco?

This was largely driven by cider and spirits sales in off-trade products which increased the most in price.

However, the report noted evidence of negative consequences for those on low incomes who have well-established dependencies on alcohol.

The PHS report said there was “limited evidence” the scheme had reduced consumption among this group – and had even led to some prioritising spending their funds on alcohol rather than food.

But, at a population level, there had been no evidence of substantial negative impacts on social harms such as alcohol-related crime or illicit drug use, the report said.

Clare Beeston, lead for the evaluation of MUP at PHS, said there has been “reductions in deaths and hospital admissions directly caused by sustained, high levels of alcohol consumption”, adding that “this is further evidence that those drinking at harmful and hazardous levels have reduced their consumption”.

Figures from 2021, the latest available, show 1,245 people died from conditions caused by alcohol – the highest since 2008.

The report will be used to help the Scottish Parliament decide whether it will continue with MUP, with a vote expected before May 2024.

Campaigners from Alcohol Focus Scotland hailed the policy as “truly life-saving”, adding the price should be increased to save more lives.

But Dr Gulhane claimed the report and statements from ministers about it “overstate” the impact of MUP, saying that of the 40 independent studies cited by the report, just eight mention health implications of the policy, seven of which are inconclusive and the remaining one was conducted by a Public Health Scotland adviser.

Read more: Analysis: Minimum unit pricing, alcohol, and liver disease deaths

In his letter to Sir Robert Chote, the Tory MSP asked for a review of the report to be carried out.

He added: “It purports to be the final report from the PHS evaluation of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland.”

“It is likely to be used in Scottish Government decision-making on whether to continue with MUP and whether to raise the minimum unit price of alcohol.

“However, I am concerned the report and associated publicity and ministerial statements significantly overstate the health impact of MUP, and under-represent the significant uncertainty in the wider body of research and among the scientific community.”

A spokesperson for Public Health Scotland said: “Public Health Scotland will engage with any review undertaken by the Office for Statistics Regulation.”

The UK Statistics Authority said it “will consider the points raised in the letter and respond in due course".

Government claims 'scientific methods' used

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Public Health Scotland used research governance processes and established scientific methods to ensure impartiality, and had their quality assessment of the papers for inclusion validated by a third party not involved in the MUP evaluation.

"The draft final report was reviewed by members of the evidence synthesis advisory group, which comprised members with a variety of relevant experience, including lived experience, experience and expertise in public health, and expertise in evidence synthesis of evidence for decision making.

"The Scottish Government will be considering a wide range of evidence and information to inform our ongoing assessment of the operation of Minimum Unit Pricing. 

"Our final report on MUP will be laid in Parliament in the autumn.”