Date Published: 8 April 2009

Low price alcohol still No 1 problem, say NHS staff

A snapshot survey of doctors and nurses treating patients with alcohol related harm showed that many believe that public health campaigns are not effective and that action on sales of low priced alcohol is the most important weapon for tackling the rising tide of alcohol problems.

The survey was carried out by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing. It asked gastroenterologists, hepatologists, acute physicians and nurses for their expert opinion on Government policy initiatives and national strategies to tackle alcohol related harm, the provision of service for people with alcohol related health problems and the scale of alcohol related health harms in their particular clinical environment.

Significant findings were:

  • 84% of respondents thought that public health campaigns were not effective
  • 73% felt action on low priced alcohol was needed to tackle alcohol related problems
  • 90% believed that all alcohol products should be labelled with unit information and sensible drinking guidelines
  • 71% believed that greater investment in treatment services was needed
  • 81% thought that if alcohol was more expensive, there would be a decrease in consumption

Another issue highlighted by the survey was under-investment in staff and services for alcohol treatment, including a lack of specialist nurses.

88% of the clinicians surveyed said funding had not kept up with demand or that services were suffering from underinvestment. Staff felt that this was leading to gaps in service such as a lack of access to alcohol liaison services in the community. Concerns included waiting times for support services that were so long that even the most motivated of patients became disillusioned before they were seen for assessment. A dire lack of community detoxification facilities was also highlighted.

Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance said:

"While informing the public through health campaigns is important, these findings shows that front line doctors and nurses treating patients with drink problems do not believe that this enough to reverse our binge drinking culture and must be linked to tough actions on cheap alcohol and round the clock availability."

Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said:

"Nurses have said time and time again that the Government must take more drastic action to tackle the growing issue of alcohol misuse. Better regulation of the labelling, sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks, as well as widespread education on the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, is needed to curb this significant problem. The RCN again calls for the introduction of a single mandatory code that applies to the whole alcohol industry to prevent retailers from engaging in unscrupulous practices which encourage consumers to drink to excess."

Source: Royal College of Nursing (RCN), UK.
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