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Spike in specialist nurse support for adults attending A&E with alcohol problems

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There has been a significant increase in patient access to nurses specialising in health problems linked to alcohol in accident and emergency settings over the last five years, say researchers.

Access to alcohol health workers or clinical nurse specialists has increased by 13.4% since 2011 to 85.2% for adults displaying alcohol-related problems, according to a study published today.

“Accident and emergency departments often form the frontline in dealing with alcohol-related harms”

James Nicholls

Overall, it showed that more adults were being routinely screened for alcohol-related problems in A&E departments in England, but more specialist support was needed to help young people.

The Surrey University study found A&E departments had increased the level of alcohol screening for adults It showed that 63.6% of adults were routinely questioned about alcohol use, compared to 47.7% in 2011.

However, routine questioning about alcohol use among under-18s remains limited, with 11.6% being routinely asked about their drinking – up from 8.9% in 2011.

The study authors said the situation for under-18s needed to improve to ensure young people considered to be at risk of developing drink-related ill health received specialist support.

Dr James Nicholls, director of research and policy development at Alcohol Research UK, which funded the study, noted that A&E departments often formed the “frontline in dealing with alcohol-related harms”.

Alcohol Research UK

Spike in support for A&E patients with booze problems

James Nicholls

“This research confirms the importance of establishing systems that can help staff when dealing with alcohol-related admissions,” he said.

He added: “It is very encouraging to see that emergency departments are increasingly identifying people who may benefit from brief advice about their drinking, as this provides a real ‘teachable moment’ with the potential to have an impact on drinking behaviours.”

In a separate study by King’s College London, researchers found patients who repeatedly presented to A&E with alcohol problems have multiple and complex needs that required personalised support.

The qualitative study – involving interviews with 30 patients and 44 staff – found those who frequently attended A&E had diverse patterns of drinking and other substance use, varied health and social problems, mixed housing circumstances and different demographic characteristics.

The study suggested that providing “assertive outreach” in the community could offer a better solution for helping people who frequently attend A&E for alcohol-related reasons.

Dr Nicholls said the second study highlighted the “lack of other services for very heavy drinkers can mean increased pressure on department staff”.

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