Prioritise opportunistic screening of patients for heavy drinking, GPs told

GPs should screen patients for risky alcohol behaviour at every opportunity as a 'priority', a specialist parliamentary group has advised.

Alcohol: GPs urged to look out for heavy drinkers (Photo: JH Lancy)

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Alcohol Misuse said the 'identification and brief advice' intervention, which involves using screening tools to identify at-risk drinkers followed by structured advice, should be delivered ‘routinely’ in general practice.

The advice forms part of a list of 10 recommendations released on Monday by the APPG on Alcohol Misuse. The group urged all political parties to commit to the 10-point plan to help reduce alcohol-related problems in the UK.

Because many patients who struggle with alcohol-related problems are unlikely to seek professional help, GPs and other frontline health professionals should perform the intervention at every opportunity, not only when they suspect patients may be heavy drinkers, the group warned.

With as many as one in four adults consuming alcohol at potentially harmful levels, the ‘wider use of such brief interventions would significantly reduce the overall burden of disease caused by drinking’, the APPG said.

The group also called for ‘mandatory training’ for all healthcare professionals on how to effectively deal with parental substance misuse, fetal alcohol syndrome disorder and alcohol-related domestic violence.

Introduce minimum unit pricing

Its manifesto also outlines that all alcoholic drinks should contain warning labels and that a minimum unit price for alcohol should be implemented, a measure which has been welcomed by the RCP.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, RCP special adviser on alcohol and chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: ‘We welcome the call from the APPG on Alcohol Misuse for the introduction of a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol.

‘An MUP is an almost perfect alcohol policy because it targets cheap drink bought by very heavy drinkers and leaves moderate drinkers largely unaffected. Over the last thirty years the UK has seen a four-fold increase in liver deaths as alcohol has become less expensive and more easily available.

‘The Westminster government urgently needs to start tackling the public health harms of alcohol. The measures laid out in the APPG manifesto are a crucial first step.’

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