School nurses are key to identifying children and young people who are misusing alcohol and offering one-to-one support, suggests latest NICE guidance.
According to NICE, alcohol misuse in the under-18s is increasing faster than the use of any other drug in the UK.
The institute said that, in 2004–2005, about 2,500 children were admitted to hospital in England with alcohol related illness. And in 2006, 21% of 11 to 15-year-olds reported having drunk alcohol in the previous week.
There are currently no national guidelines on what constitutes safe alcohol consumption for children. The new recommendations focus on encouraging children not to drink alcohol at all and on delaying the age at which they start drinking.
The public health guidance, published last week, recommends incorporating an alcohol education programme into the national curriculum in schools.
It suggests that nurses, and those working with school children, need to make young people aware of the harmful effects of alcohol.
Guideline author Catherine Law, reader in children’s health at University College London, said: ‘By increasing knowledge of the potential damage alcohol can cause physically, mentally and socially – and helping young people develop decision-making skills, we can help prevent them from getting into trouble with alcohol’
But Ros Godson, professional officer for school health and public health at unite/CPHVA, said implementing the guideline would put pressure on already overstretched school nurses.
‘An alcohol education programme takes a lot of time, if it is to be effective, and is highly skilled work,’ she said. ‘You can’t just say “don’t do it” because children won’t listen.
‘School nurses would need to be properly qualified which may require extra training,’
The guideline, which also recommends offering advice to parents on how to set boundaries for their children and teach them how to resist peer pressure, can be downloaded at www.nice.org.uk