‘The decision is significant and welcome’

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THE decision by Edinburgh’s licensing board to refuse Sainsbury’s application to sell alcohol at a new store in South Bridge after objections from health chiefs marks a significant – and welcome – new approach to governing the sale of drink.

Scotland has had an increasingly destructive relationship with alcohol. Much of the problem has been due to price, with alcohol on sale for less than bottled water in some places. The Scottish Government has been seeking to address this through minimum pricing. And while this is welcomed, no one measure is enough on its own to tackle the issue.

Those in charge of licensing where, when and how alcohol will be sold have an important role in trying to turn the situation around.

Licensing boards have always heard objections from the police about potential crime and disorder issues around licence applications, but now health boards have been handed the same powers to object to new applications. The refusal of Sainsbury’s licence is the first sign of them being used.

Reducing the availability of alcohol in areas where there is a clear health problem is something that should have happened years ago. The city centre currently has 2.5 miles of shelves of alcohol and the Old Town has among the highest number of alcohol-related hospital admissions in the city.

Making alcohol available on every street corner sends a message out that as a society we think it’s normal to buy it and consume it regularly. A more sensible relationship is needed. Ensuring that every supermarket doesn’t have a wall of the product when we go to pick up some groceries is a good start.

On the mend

Amid accusations of waiting lists being fiddled and a management culture based on bullying, these are difficult times both for patients and staff at NHS Lothian.

The arrival of new interim chief executive Tim Davison from NHS Lanarkshire offers the opportunity of a fresh start for the health board.

There is a lot of work to be done to restore the public trust that has been lost in recent months.

The new regime must begin by co-operating fully with the ongoing investigation into the practices which had become common practice under the leadership of retiring chief executive James Barbour.

Then, when that investigation is complete, it must act decisively on its findings. The patients who place their trust in the NHS will demand no less.