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Practice Nurses key in alcohol use screening

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The Department of Health has urged all practice nurses in England to use alcohol misuse risk assessment tools.

The National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England, launched by the DH in 2004, identified screening and brief interventions as the key to tackling alcohol misuse and alcohol-related harm.

Practice nurses play a vital role in this but they have to be active in implementing identification tools and offering brief advice, delegates at the Primary Care Live conference in London heard last week.

‘The average GP surgery has around 1,200 patients and almost 300 will be drinking above low-risk levels,’ said Don Lavoie, alcohol policy officer at the DH.

‘There is a large body of evidence to show that [identification tools] are effective. Using them routinely and consistently could have a significant impact on public health,’ he added.

Using the single alcohol screening questionnaire (SASQ), practice nurses ask patients one question about alcohol consumption.

The tool then guides them to ask further questions if necessary, offer brief advice on cutting alcohol intake or refer patients to specialist services.

Nurses can also use AUDIT-PC, a short version of the World Health Organization’s alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT) that has been adapted for use in primary care.

‘We do not expect primary care practitioners to become specialists in alcohol misuse but we are encouraging them to make use of these validated tools to identify problems and help patients understand their risk levels and the benefits of cutting down,’ said Mr Lavoie.

The government launched its Know Your Limits alcohol awareness campaign in May.

A second phase is due to begin in November.

The DH is also involved in a pilot project to test alcohol misuse screening tools. Go to for more information.

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