Intended for healthcare professionals


NHS to set up new alcohol and tobacco services for patients admitted to hospital

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 07 January 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l78
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

The NHS will establish new dedicated alcohol and tobacco treatment services to help vulnerable problem drinkers and smokers admitted to hospitals in England.

New alcohol care teams will be set up in up to 50 NHS hospitals to provide on the spot support to patients and their families dealing with alcohol misuse. The teams will be rolled out in areas with the highest number of alcohol related admissions, working with local community services to provide support such as counselling and medically assisted help.

And 600 000 smokers admitted to hospitals in areas of the country with the greatest need will be offered dedicated help to quit over the next five years, with particular emphasis on helping pregnant women and their partners to quit to improve the health of newborn babies. Support will also be available to all patients receiving long term support from specialist mental health and learning disability services in these areas.

The initiatives will form part of a package of new prevention measures in the NHS’s long term plan alongside action on areas such as obesity and diabetes.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said that the long term plan would deliver a “sea change” in care for a range of major conditions including cancer, mental ill health, and heart disease.

“Alcohol and tobacco addiction remain two of the biggest causes of ill health and early death, and the right support can save lives,” he said.

Alcohol related hospital admissions have grown by 17% over the past decade, and are estimated to cost the NHS in England £3.5bn (€3.9bn; $4.5bn) every year.

NHS England estimates that expanding the alcohol care teams initiative could prevent 50 000 admissions and almost 250 000 bed days over the next five years, based on promising results from existing teams that have been set up in areas such as Bolton, Salford, Nottingham, Liverpool, London, and Portsmouth.

Commenting on the announcements, president of the Royal College of Physicians Andrew Goddard said: “Every contact a health professional has with a patient is an opportunity to help the patient give up smoking. Having a system in place to treat tobacco dependence with allocated funding will help make it happen.

“The focus on the management of alcohol related disease is also welcome. It is an increasing problem in our hospitals where many patients first come to the attention of the NHS. We mustn’t forget prevention, though, and further measures to reduce harmful drinking are much needed.”

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: “Investing in prevention is the smartest thing the NHS can do. Tobacco kills 1500 people a week so helping people to quit when admitted to hospital helps them, their families, and the taxpayer. And it is equally smart for hospitals to have new expertise focused on supporting the most alcohol dependent people. Both measures will save thousands of lives and help the NHS remain sustainable into future years.”

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