Health in Scotland

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The health of the Scottish population is, and has been for many years, worse than that of the English. Life expectancy is the lowest in the UK, at 77.1 for men and 81.1 for women, and one of the lowest in the OECD. The gap between Scotland and England has grown since 1980. Some of this is clearly attributable to economic disadvantage, but the differences in health status are more pronounced that would be expected on that basis. It has often been suggested that the Scottish diet is to blame.[1] This is particularly so in Glasgow and the Glasgow effect has been the subject of some academic study.


Following Scottish devolution 1999, responsibility for health and social care policy and funding became devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

A few aspects of Scottish health policy, such as abortion and surrogacy remain reserved powers of the UK government.[2]


Healthcare in Scotland is mainly provided by Scotland's public health service, NHS Scotland. It provides healthcare to all permanent residents free at the point of need and paid for from general taxation. Health is a matter that is devolved, and considerable differences have developed between the public healthcare systems in the different countries of the United Kingdom.[3] Though the public system dominates healthcare provision, private healthcare and a wide variety of alternative and complementary treatments are available for those willing to pay.[4]


High rates of alcohol related illnesses pose a major public health challenge for Scotland. NHS Scotland estimate that there were 3,705 deaths attributable to alcohol consumption in 2015, this equates to 6.5% or around 1 in 15 of the deaths for the whole of Scotland for that year.[5]

Alcohol misuse was estimated to cost the Scottish economy 3.56 billion per year in 2007.[6] Alcohol consumption in Scotland is approximately 20% higher than in England and Wales.[6]

Public Health Measures[edit]

Drink Driving Limit[edit]

In December 2014, the Scottish Government reduced the legal drink driving limit in an effort to reduce the number of alcohol related deaths and serious injuries on Scottish roads.[7] The reduction in the legal limit from 80mg to 50mg of alcohol in every 100ml of blood brought Scotland in to line with other European countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain.[7] In 2018, researchers from Glasgow University found that rates of road traffic accidents in Scotland had increased since the reduction in the drink driving limit had been introduced, proposing that the change in the limit may not have been enforced or publicised sufficiently to have the expected effect in reducing accidents.[8]

Minimum Unit Pricing[edit]

In 2012 the Scottish Government passed legislation to introduce a statutory minimum price per unit of alcohol to try to reduce alcohol consumption by harmful drinkers. [9] The legislation was subject to legal challenges by alcohol trade bodies including the Scotch Whisky Association but was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.[10] The act came into effect on 1 May 2018 with an initial minimum price of 50p per unit.


The Health and Sport Committee has called for more action to tackle Scotland’s “obesogenic environment”.


Scotland was the first country in the UK to enact a smoking ban in public places. The legislation was passed in the Scottish parliament in 2005 and came into force on the 26th March 2006. The effect of the smoking ban has been found to be positive with an 18% drop in the rate of child asthma admissions per year and a 17% reduction in heart attack admissions to nine Scottish hospitals.[11] In 2015, 87% of Scottish adults were found to be in favour of the ban, with only 8% opposed.[11]

The tobacco control strategy has had a "positive impact". Scottish smoking rates fell from 31% in 2003 to 21% in 2015. There is a socio-economic gradient with 35% of people living in the most deprived areas smoking compared to 10% in the most affluent areas.[12]

Mental health[edit]

There is some evidence that Scottish patients more often seek medical help with stress, anxiety and depression than English patients.[13] To help combat this, Scotland has put in place a Mental Health Strategy. The strategy began in 2016 and will last for ten years. It aims to increase accessibility of mental healthcare towards children and adolescents, improve attitudes towards mental illness, and educate the community. The overall goal is to improve how people in Scotland live, grow, work, and age.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Snacks, fags and booze: Scotland's triple health challenge". Holyrood. 14 September 2017. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  2. ^ "What powers does Scotland have?". 2013-01-31. Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  3. ^ NHS now four different systems BBC January 2, 2008
  4. ^ Steel D, Cylus J. United Kingdom (Scotland): Health system review. Health Systems in Transition, 2012; 14(9): 1–150.
  5. ^ "Hospital admissions, deaths and overall burden of disease attributable to alcohol consumption in Scotland" (PDF). NHS Scotland. 2018.
  6. ^ a b Scotland, NHS Health. "Alcohol overview". Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  7. ^ a b "Scotland lowers drink-drive limit". 2014-12-05. Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  8. ^ Alderson, Reevel (2018-12-13). "New drink-drive laws fail to cut accidents". Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  9. ^ Scottish Government, St Andrew's House (2012-07-31). "Minimum Unit Pricing". Retrieved 2019-07-21.
  10. ^ "Supreme Court backs Scottish minimum alcohol pricing". BBC News Online. 2017-11-15. Retrieved 2017-11-15.
  11. ^ a b AshScotland (March 10, 2016). "Time to look back, now the smoke has cleared" (PDF).
  12. ^ "Scottish anti-smoking strategy shows 'positive impact'". BBC News. 31 August 2017. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  13. ^ "Depression levels high in Scotland". BBC News. 31 July 2001. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  14. ^ "Mental health and wellbeing". NHS Health Scotland. 17 August 2017. Retrieved 16 September 2017.