30 July 2015: A message from Dr Bruce Ritson on behalf of SHAAP marking the sad passing of Dr Evelyn Gillan, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, our friend and colleague.
Evelyn died on Tuesday 14th July 2015. Her death at the young age of 55 represents a great loss to family, friends and all those who worked with her. She was Director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) from 2007 until 2010, when she moved to become chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland where she continued to work closely with SHAAP. She was a tireless and eloquent advocate for improving the quality of life, health and welfare in Scotland, and indeed throughout the world.
Evelyn was an energetic campaigner for the prevention of alcohol related problems and had unique skill in articulating the medical and scientific evidence about the damage to health attributable to alcohol and the measures which could be taken to reduce this harm. She was a brilliant communicator with the media and the many international conferences to which she contributed.
Evelyn was fearless in expressing her opinions, which were always well founded, and no-one could ever doubt the sincerity of her motives. She worked very well with all of the members of SHAAP and of the medical and nursing Royal Colleges whom they represented. She was adept in forming alliances with likeminded organisations in Scotland, UK, and further afield. Following her death we received many messages of sadness and regret from around the world, all saying that an important light had been extinguished at a tragically early stage.
As Director of SHAAP she assimilated the evidence on the most effective measures that would reduce alcohol related harm in Scotland. She organised conferences, lectures and briefing papers on critical themes notably the extent of harm due to alcohol, its impact on family life, merits of brief interventions delivered at an early stage when drinking was approaching hazardous levels and “rethinking alcohol licensing” which recognised that licensing could be used to improve public health. She convened an expert group on the influence of price on consumption which led to the SHAAP report Alcohol Price Policy and Public Health (2007). This report along with two commissioned legal opinions and her subsequent advocacy played a crucial role in presenting the public health case for Minimum unit pricing legislation which was subsequently approved by the Scottish Parliament in May 2012.
Academic achievements were PhD in social policy at Edinburgh University (2008); MSc in Social policy (2001) from Edinburgh and CQSW from Moray House College of Education in 1983. Her earlier career shows that she was always a passionate advocate for change that challenged established ways of thinking. She was Head of Public Affairs at the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland and commissioned research with key opinion formers on the way in which nurses were viewed in Scotland. As part of her “Value Nurses” campaign, she and her team got 50 MSPs to shadow nurses in their own constituencies; a powerful way to develop understanding!
From 1995 to 2001 she was Co-director of Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust in Scotland and an active advocate of “Zero tolerance” of violence against women. Soon Councils all over Britain wanted to run Zero Tolerance campaigns along with groups in New York and Australia. She was Public Relations Manager for the Health Education Board for Scotland from 1993-94, Campaigns Officer for Edinburgh District Council from 1985-1993. When a student of social work at Moray House she was President of the Students Representative council and a regular speaker at public meetings. It is clear that her commitment to advocacy and her understanding of the intricacies of policy development came from an early age and represented her desire to improve the quality of life for others and challenge assumptions that were rooted in self-interest. She knew from an early age that successful campaigners needed a clear evidence base, an ability to build and mobilise alliances and to use all the resources and methods of the media.
She was on the Board of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance and this year was busily organising the Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Edinburgh; the first time that this important event has been held in UK. She was a major contributor to the USA/EU dialogue concerned with reducing under-age drinking and also written a Policy Advocate’s User Manual for forthcoming edition of a WHO sponsored book entitled Alcohol, No Ordinary Commodity, which summarises the current state of knowledge on effective alcohol policy
The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh recognised her outstanding contribution by making her a Fellow of the College an honour very rarely bestowed outside the medical field. This in itself shows what a remarkable figure she has been, and how difficult it will be for all of us to come to terms with her loss. However, it is also true that the legacy which she leaves to Scotland’s health and the inspiration she has been to us all will continue to influence policy and practice for many years to come. She is also a great personal loss to her many friends, and of course to her family, her partner Tom and her two sons. Her short life has made a big difference
The AHA has made a charitable donation to Zero Tolerance in Evelyn’s memory.