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22.12.15

Hospitals urged to advise on alcohol as A&E attendances more than double

Hospital staff are being urged to provide more advice on alcohol consumption after a Nuffield Trust study revealed that 90% of those who attended A&E for probable alcohol poisoning only attended a hospital setting once in 2013-14.

The study’s researchers said this suggested that A&E staff should take full advantage of the opportunity to advise on alcohol-related dangers, given that emergency admissions to hospital specific to alcohol have more than doubled in the last nine years (from 2008-9 to 2013-14). These admissions now add up to more than 250,000 a year.

The rate of people attending A&E with probable alcohol poisoning has also doubled in six years.

NICE recommends commissioning hospital alcohol workers to assess and manage those who drink at harmful levels, but a Public Health England study in 2014 found that almost 25% of the 40 largest district general hospitals did not have alcohol services – despite being “best placed” to benefit from alcohol care teams.

Nuffield researchers also called for “much better recording” of alcohol-related activity in hospitals, especially the measure which counts A&E attendances due to alcohol poisoning.

Fellow author and senior research analyst at the Nuffield Trust, Dr Alisha Davies, said: “With one in four hospitals already without some form of alcohol team, we’re worried that cuts to NHS and local authority budgets could put services for a particularly vulnerable group of people at risk.”

But joint author of the report, Claire Currie, said that more than anything else, the report confirmed the “full burden over-indulgence in alcohol is placing on our NHS”, as well as the “obvious human cost”.

“Our research has uncovered a picture of rising and avoidable activity in hospitals, representing a stark challenge for the health service at a time when it’s already under great pressure,” she added.

“Hospitals alone cannot tackle this issue – the government must consider measures such as minimum unit pricing, restricting availability and limiting marketing and advertising.”

But a government spokesperson said: “The government has taken action to tackle cheap alcohol by banning the lowest priced drinks and we are already seeing fewer young people drinking on a regular basis.

“People should always drink alcohol responsibly – very busy ambulance services and A&E staff can do without this extra demand.”

Overall, the highest rates of likely alcohol poisoning were observed in younger age groups (15 to 24 year olds) – particularly young women, where the rate was around one and a half times higher than men. Rates were also higher in the north of England, and attendances linked to poisoning were three and a half times higher amongst those living in the 20% most deprived areas in England.

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