GPs want support to cut harmful alcohol use

Survey shows GPs keen to tackle harmful alcohol use to deliver £100m estimated saving to NHS costs.

GPs are keen to screen more at-risk adults for alcohol misuse, but warn they lack time and support to do so.

A survey of 154 GPs found that 71 per cent thought alcohol screening could be higher.

Almost all (93 per cent) said they were comfortable asking about alcohol use and 57 per cent were proactive in doing so.

NICE estimates that screening all patients for harmful drinking when they register with a GP practice could lead to 'significant' savings.

Overall, improved prevention of harmful drinking could save £100 million a year, NICE believes.

Brief screening would identify 633,355 higher-risk drinkers a year and reduce drinking by around five units a week, research suggests.

GPs said the biggest barrier to delivering screening for alcohol misuse was a lack of time, the poll. GPs also saw patient reluctance and a lack of nurse training as obstacles. The survey was conducted by Opinion Health and commissioned by Lundbeck.

Don Shenker, chief executive of the charity Alcohol Concern, said GPs often overestimated the amount of work involved in alcohol screening.

'People simply need to be asked about their drinking and given brief advice from the practice nurse about recommended drinking levels,' he said.

'A lot of GPs don't realise that. They expect to have to do half an hour's counselling with dependent drinkers.'

He said advice could take two or three minutes during which a nurse asked about drinking and provided advice on units and recommended limits.

'If you ask everyone about their drinking, you're going to identify those who are drinking at harmful levels straight away,' he said.

'Evidence shows that one in eight will then reduce their drinking, as opposed to one in 20 who quit smoking as a result of brief interventions.'

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