UK hospitals to host dedicated alcohol teams under new NHS plan

The NHS is to set up dedicated alcohol teams in 50 hospitals in England to treat problem drinkers as part of a raft of new measures unveiled by the government today.

The new teams will be rolled out in areas with the highest number of alcohol related admissions and provide on the spot support for patients dealing with alcohol misuse and their families. With a heavier focus to persuade heavy drinkers to reduce their alcohol intake, the teams will offer 20-40 minute advice sessions, offering personalised feedback on their intake and how to cut it back. The teams will work with other local community services to provide medical help and support through counselling.

The aim is to cut the  £3.7 billion a year that alcohol abuse reportedly costs the NHS each year, by preventing 50,000 booze-related hospital admissions and save 250,000 ‘bed days’ over the next five years. A similar system has already been running in a number of hospitals including in Manchester and is reported to have resulted in significantly reduced admissions to A&E, heavy drinker hospital stays, re-admissions and ambulance call-outs.

The measures forms part of the wider NHS long-term plan announced by the Prime Minister today.

BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar welcomed the plan but argued that more needs to be done, including bringing in minimum unit pricing.

She said: ‘As well as the implementation of these services in the NHS, the Government needs to introduce broader measures, such a minimum unit pricing for beer, wines and spirits, to achieve a largescale improvement in the population’s health.

Public Health England (PHE) chief executive Duncan Selbie said that investing in prevention was “the smartest thing the NHS can do”.

‘It is welcome that the Government is beginning to recognise the importance of prevention and must now ensure that these plans are deliverable, sustainable, and serve the long-term needs of the public,” he said.

The move was also welcomed by The Portman Group, the organisation promoting alcohol social responsibility .

Chief executive John Timothy said targeted specialist help for people who are alcohol dependent would be welcomed by all within the industry.

“We know that the majority of people in the UK are drinking sensibly but there remains a small minority – around 4% of drinkers in the UK – that continue to drink to dangerous and harmful levels. There is a clear case for targeted interventions, designed with the flexibility to be adapted for local need, to identify and support those people that need help. This will prove more effective and more cost efficient than any blanket measures to curb drinking,” he said.

The Society for Independent Brewers  (SIBA) said while they welcomed the idea of targeted help for the “small percentage” of alcohol abusers, more blanket measures were less effective.

“Blanket measures which aim to curb the enjoyment alcohol across the board do not work, and only serve to harm small businesses like SIBA brewers who market their products responsibly,” Chief executive Mike Benner said.

In an unusual twist, new Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that he was “dead against” minimum unit pricing.

“95% of people drink responsibly and don’t burden the NHS because of their drinking. I don’t want to punish them. Instead I want targeted action at the 5% of people whose drinking is a problem to them, and in some cases, where they’re violent in A&E, for example, a danger to others too.”

His “refreshing” stance was applauded by WSTA chairman Miles Beale.

“It is extremely encouraging to hear the sensible comments made by Matt Hancock MP in which he opposes MUP and said it was time to stop punishing the majority, who drink responsibly, for the excessive consumption of the few.”

“I am delighted that the new Health Secretary’s view is so close to the position the WSTA has occupied for some years. More than two years ago I said that research showed that MUP would not stop the small minority of harmful drinkers, but instead tax the majority of consumers who enjoy alcohol as part of a healthy lifestyle. Trends in government data show clearly that the UK has been drinking ever more responsibly over the last ten years – with consumption dropping by one fifth. This has been in large part achieved by partnership working between industry and government in a targeted manner.”

“How refreshing to hear this echoed by Matt Hancock. I am delighted that this matches a statement from the Home Office that MUP will not feature in the government’s forthcoming alcohol strategy.”

Before Christmas NHS England announced it was spending an extra £300,000 in dozens of alcohol services over the festive period, including ‘drunk tanks’, as a means of alleviating strain on A&E during the final weekend before Christmas.

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