It’s freshers time at universities and across mainstream and social media we have been seeing the inevitable pictures of students lurching around city centres in a drunk and dishevelled state.
Alcohol is a toxin, and while some media outlets portray these scenes with humour, the sight of young people poisoning themselves and putting their health and personal safety at risk is hardly uplifting. Sadly, it is an indication of a serious health issue now and for the future.
It was good to see the issue of alcohol being moved up the agenda this week. As Nursing Times has reported, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has vowed that if Labour comes to power it will invest £13.5m to ensure all 191 district general hospitals in England have an alcohol care team (ACT) made up of at least three nurses.
“The party predicts the move would produce a net saving of £36-42m”
Mr Ashworth is passionate about tackling the harm caused by excessive drinking as he struggled with his father’s alcoholism as a child and young adult, seeing at first hand the harm alcohol can cause.
New research by the Labour party shows that currently 41 trusts across England do not have an ACT despite the fact that alcohol-related hospital admissions have increased by 17% over the past decade.
Evidence suggests that nurse-led ACTs can help reduce attendance at A&E, hospital length of stay and re-admissions as well as ambulance call-outs.
Implementing an ACT in all 191 hospitals would cost an estimated £13.5m. However, the party predicts the move would produce a net saving of £36-42m in public funds.
The issue of how to manage alcohol consumption in our population is a challenging one as its use is deeply ingrained and, depressingly, as a nation we are known for our excesses.
As we reported earlier in the year, the situation is not helped by the fact that there is confusion about how to calculate alcohol consumption accurately.
“Nurses have a key role in health promotion”
For example, a unit of alcohol in wine is based on a 125ml glass of wine of a strength of 8.5% alcohol by volume. However, the glass that most people pour is 175ml or even 250ml, and red wine today is typically 14% or 15%. This means people who believe they are sticking to the current government target of 14 units a week by limiting themselves to two glasses of wine a day could be drinking over 50 units.
Let’s hope that the government takes note of this suggested Labour policy as another step forward in dealing with this issue that affects so many of the population – whether they are drinking themselves or dealing with the fallout of a loved one who has been drinking to excess.
By raising awareness about the harm of excessive drinking and offering brief interventions, nurses have a key role in health promotion.
Indeed, all of us can take action ourselves, and with our friends and colleagues, to encourage responsible and safe drinking.