Alcohol deaths ‘could be avoided’

Experts have claimed that many deaths from alcohol-related liver disease could be avoided and that doctors are “missing opportunities” to help people with alcohol problems.

AmbulanceThe new report, by the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death (NCEPOD), saw researchers examine detailed patient notes of 385 patients who died from alcohol-related liver disease across England Wales and Northern Ireland. They found 135 cases of “missed opportunities” to help improve the patient’s health outcome and as many as 32 of the deaths could have been avoided. The report added that only half of the cases reviewed received “good care”.

The NCEPOD said that all patients who attend hospital should be screened for alcohol misuse, that any patient with urgent alcohol-related liver disease should see a specialist within 24 hours and that all patients who have displayed harmful drinking behaviour should be referred to alcohol support services.

Report co-author Dr Mark Juniper, clinical co-ordinator at NCEPOD, said: “Many people with alcohol-related liver disease have multiple admissions with this condition. This gives clinicians an ideal opportunity to offer appropriate treatment and advice to patients to help them stop drinking and improve their future health.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t happening, and in over a third of patients reviewed in this study, referral for support to stop drinking was not made, despite most hospitals reporting to have alcohol liaison services.

“This is partly because the services are not available at all times that they are needed. Similarly, patients were not always seen by a specialist in liver disease, and when they did, this was often not for several days after admission.

“We know that abstinence works, and that when simple advice is offered to patients, one in eight will reduce their harmful drinking levels – that’s better than the results from ‘stop smoking’ support services.”

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