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Alcohol specialist nurses 'pay for themselves many times over'

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Calls for the expansion of alcohol specialist nurse services are growing in the wake of an influential report from MPs.

The Commons health select committee last week published a report into the government’s strategy on dealing with alcohol.

The report said the NHS needed evidence on the most effective early interventions to reduce the number of avoidable hospital admissions for alcohol, noting that alcohol specialist nurses (ASNs) appeared to be a strong candidate.

It stated: “The evidence we received suggested that the establishment of alcohol specialist nurse services throughout the country is one of those measures.”  

For example, the report quoted the Alcohol Health Alliance, which said evidence suggested alcohol-related hospital admissions could be reduced by 5% nationally if each district general hospital established a seven-day ASN service to care for patients admitted for less than one day, and an assertive outreach alcohol service to care for frequent hospital attendees and long-stay patients.

In addition, the British Society of Gastroenterology said the “dramatic impact” of ASNs during a five-day working week “highlights the need for them to work routinely on a seven-day basis in hospitals, especially since such a large proportion of alcohol-related problems present out-of-hours, particularly at weekends”.

“Alcohol specialist nurses pay for themselves many times over, in terms of improved detection of alcohol misuse, accessibility, waiting times, [did not attend] rates, reduced inpatient detoxifications and length of stay,” the society told the committee.

Responding to the report, British Liver Trust chief executive Andrew Langford also called for more ASNs.

He said: “With well over a million hospital admissions each year due to alcohol, the cost savings brought on by the employment of an alcohol specialist nurse is huge both in terms of cost-savings and the unprecedented benefits to patients and people affected by alcohol-related conditions.

“We know that specialist nurses play a vital role in the management of liver conditions, and we firmly believe that existing good practice models should be translated in to routine care for alcohol-related conditions.”

Both the committee and Mr Langford highlighted the success of an ASN service set up in Nottingham, which has led to widespread improvements in outcomes and quality of care for patients admitted for detoxification and for the complications of alcohol-related cirrhosis.

The ASN service has seen alcohol related hospital admissions reduced by two-thirds, resulting in a saving of 36.4 bed days per month in patients admitted for detox. Liver enzyme abnormalities have been halved and there has been a reduction in bed days for cirrhotic patients from 6.3 to 3.2 days per month.

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