THE number of Fifers who died from an alcohol-specific illness is the highest in 18 years.

An alarming annual health report said there were "significant levels" of booze-related harm with more than 70,000 adults in the Kingdom drinking more than the weekly guideline amounts.

That's led to more hospital admissions and deaths but the blame has been shifted around with Fife Licensing Board accused of ignoring recommendations to address the problems while "little has been done" by the Scottish Government to stop alcohol being sold cheaply for home consumption according to the Fife Licensing Forum.

Dona Milne, director of public health for Fife, said: "In 2017, 91 alcohol-specific deaths where alcohol consumption is the main underlying cause of death were recorded – the highest number reported in the last 18 years.

"In addition, alcohol-related hospital admissions have increased each year for the last three years and accounted for 2,350 admissions in 2017/18.

"Rates of both alcohol-related hospital admissions and alcohol-specific deaths are significantly higher in our most deprived communities."

She said that 73 per cent of alcohol sold in Scotland was from supermarkets, shops and the internet rather than pubs and clubs and there was evidence to show that "higher levels of alcohol availability" from off-sales was associated with increased alcohol-related death and hospital stay rates.

Ms Milne's report said there were more than twice as many off-sales in Fife's most deprived areas, with adults in those areas drinking much more and being four times more likely to die due to booze, than in the least deprived areas.

The average consumption was 43 units per week and 28 units respectively – one unit of alcohol is the equivalent to half a pint of beer, 76ml of wine or a single 25ml nip of whisky.

NHS Fife said that availability, affordability and attractiveness had to be addressed to reduce alcohol harm.

Ms Milne said that Fife Licensing Board had, in its draft policy, included an NHS Fife recommendation that no further off-sales licences should be granted in the two areas with the highest provision and levels of harm in Fife.

She said: "Unfortunately, the licensing board did not include any of NHS Fife’s recommendations in the final policy, deciding there was no over-provision of alcohol in Fife.

"This was despite NHS Fife’s public health department submitting a detailed response to the consultation, in addition to the evidence presented previously.

"This makes it more difficult to prevent new licenses being granted or current licenses being extended.

"Objections can, however, be made on the grounds of licensing objectives, including ‘protecting and improving public health’.

"The public health department and our partners will therefore continue to object on these grounds to new or extended off-licences in targeted areas of Fife as part of our strategic approach to reducing alcohol harms in Fife."

Meanwhile, Jeff Ellis, the convener of the Fife Licensing Forum, has written to the minister for community safety to highlight the "gross disparity" in Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) – with an average of 54 pence per unit for the off-trade and £1.80 per unit for the on-trade.

In a draft letter to Ash Denham MSP he said: "As one of the members of our forum stated, the supermarkets are selling alcohol cheaper than the on-trade can buy it wholesale. This is unsustainable."

He said there was a "long-term trend towards home consumption" and "significant levels of alcohol-related harm in Fife relating to crime, public health, public safety, public nuisance and the safety of children".

Mr Ellis said that while the on-trade had "never been better regulated, trained, monitored and managed than it is today", he added that "little has been done to deal with where Scotland’s problem with alcohol really lies".

He stated: "The safe environment for controlled and managed consumption of alcohol provided by on-trade premises is being undermined by a number of factors which are combining to reinforce the trend towards home consumption."

Recognising it would be "highly unpopular in some quarters", he concluded: "The advice from the health experts is to drink less but drink better and a £1 MUP would directly reinforce that advice."

The forum is expected to agree the stance today (Thursday).

Across Fife, there are 216 on-sales, 369 off-sales and 485 combined on- and off-sales.