NICE contributes to the Health Select Committee inquiry on Alcohol – May 2009

Posted on May 22, 2009. Filed under: Alcohol & Drug Dep. | Tags: |

NICE contributes to the Health Select Committee inquiry on Alcohol

“What is the scale of ill-health related to alcohol misuse, and what are the consequences for the NHS? To address alcohol-related health problems, should the drinking culture in England change, and if so, how? These questions form part of the terms of reference for the House of Commons Health Select Committee (HSC), which is currently holding an inquiry on alcohol and its impact on health. The HSC is a group of cross-party MPs who examine a range of health matters, inviting experts from the public, private and voluntary sectors to give their views on the matter in question. Their resulting report advises government on what actions should be taken.

Professor Mike Kelly, NICE Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence, was one of three witnesses invited to give evidence at a recent HSC session on what steps should be considered to tackle the rising problem of alcohol misuse. This inquiry is particularly timely, as NICE is currently producing guidance in both its public health and clinical programmes addressing alcohol misuse: prevention of alcohol misuse, clinical management of alcohol disorders, and alcohol dependence and harmful alcohol use.

In response to a Committee query about what more could be done to prevent development of alcohol related problems, Professor Kelly advised that an important step is for the NHS to recognise alcohol as a major priority. He also highlighted that alcohol use can change over time: “Trends in alcohol use are not an unstoppable juggernaut that can’t be turned around. Patterns have changed over the last 20 to 30 years: having a drink at lunchtime was fairly common but in many sectors that has now stopped. However, a pattern for some people of drinking more in the evenings and at weekends exists, which needs to be addressed. There is a good evidence base for what works to tackle alcohol misuse, but these approaches need to be integrated into the way that people live – taking account of how people work and spend their leisure time.”

Questions from the committee on the three best interventions that the NHS should focus on drew a range of responses from the three witnesses, including more screening, more alcohol health workers and more joined-up government action. One point was noted by Professor Kelly as often being overlooked, given the many binge-drinking stories that have become so familiar: “Alcohol is a population-based problem. If the NHS focuses solely at the binge-drinking or problematic-drinking end of the spectrum, an opportunity will be missed to reduce consumption of alcohol across the general population. A national strategy is needed so that the people who consider themselves to be sensible drinkers – but who may actually be drinking potentially harmful amounts – are also targeted as that’s where problems build.”

The NICE public consultation on the evidence for the alcohol-use: Prevention guidance is open until June 17, with final guidance scheduled for publication in spring 2010.

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