Intended for healthcare professionals

News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

New alcohol strategy being developed for England

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 17 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:636
  1. Judy Jones
  1. Malmesbury, Wiltshire

    A strategy for implementing screening for alcohol misuse and brief intervention is being developed for use in primary healthcare settings in England.

    Patients who drink excessively present to GPs and other primary health practitioners twice as often as other patients and may make up 20% of patients on a practice list, according to the Newcastle based research team that is developing the strategy.

    Several studies have shown, however, that problem drinkers who receive 5-10 minutes of structured advice and a self help booklet from healthcare practitioners will reduce their alcohol consumption by an average of 25%.

    The new strategy, backed by Professor Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, is being put together as part of the fourth phase of a longstanding international collaboration to tackle problem drinking: the World Health Organization collaborative project on identification and management of alcohol related problems in primary health care.

    Professor Nick Heather, director of the Centre for Alcohol and Drug Studies, Newcastle, and colleagues have been awarded a £132 000 ($200 000) grant by the Alcohol and Education Research Council to research how best to implement widespread screening and brief intervention. The centre has established a website ( to alert GPs and other healthcare practitioners to the project and to invite their involvement and comments.

    Professor Heather said: “It took ages for advice against smoking to be accepted as a normal part of general practice. But attitudes did change and now no one takes offence when they are asked by their GP or nurse about their smoking habits. We want to reach that same position with excessive drinking and to increase the level of inquiry and intervention.”

    Recent research from the United States had shown that implementing screening and brief intervention in primary health care resulted in substantial financial benefits for the health system, largely through reduced use of health services, Professor Heather added. It was likely that the same savings could be made in England.

    The website was launched as the chancellor, Gordon Brown, in his Budget statement, froze duties on alcohol at their current levels—a decision that Professor Heather described as “not helpful.”

    “Alcohol is cheaper now in real terms than it has been for many years, and the more it is consumed, the greater the problems will be,” he said. “The chancellor should have increased duties in line with inflation.”

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