Health professionals are being urged to correctly gather information on people’s alcohol drinking habits to ensure those who need help do not slip through the net.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published a new draft quality standard setting out priority areas for quality improvement for the care of adults with alcohol-use disorders. This includes a statement about accurately recording alcohol use.
Thousands of people asked each year could be missing out on brief interventions to help curb problem drinking, or a potential referral to specialist alcohol services, NICE has said.
NICE is therefore recommending that people being asked how much and how often they drink alcohol should have the information added to a validated questionnaire to identify if they need help.
However, NICE has emphasised this shouldn’t be a question of health professionals needing to do additional work, but rather ensuring that information gathered is correctly and appropriately stored. This should also avoid people being asked repeatedly about their alcohol use, it has added.
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One of the issues with alcohol consumption data is also the fact people commonly lie about how much they drink, or either don’t understand how measures such as ‘units’ relate to the reality of their drinking habit.
A survey by YouGov before the pandemic, for example, concluded that a quarter of Britons admitted to having lied about how much they drink. And the person they were most likely to lie to was their doctor.
The pandemic also led to many people increasing their drinking. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed there were a record number of deaths from alcohol-specific causes in the UK last year, which the charity Drinkaware described as “absolutely devastating”.
A large number of people who are alcohol dependent are not receiving treatment, NICE has also pointed out. However, this could be for a wide variety of reasons.
According to data from the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities, in England there were an estimated 602,391 dependent drinkers in need of specialist treatment in 2018 to 2019 (the most recent figures available) yet only 28% were receiving treatment.
NICE is asking service providers, such as primary care services, secondary care services, social care services, criminal justice services, community and voluntary services, to ensure systems are in place for the use of validated alcohol questionnaires when asking people about their alcohol use.
They should also ensure abbreviated versions of an appropriate questionnaire are available when time is limited.
Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: “Many of us are asked about our alcohol use when we interact with health services, but if an appropriate questionnaire is not used, people with alcohol problems could be slipping through the net and may not be receiving the support they need.
“We know a large number of people who are dependent on alcohol are not receiving treatment and this could be for a variety of reasons, but as part of a health and care system that continually learns from data, we do know that using a validated questionnaire provides commissioners with the information they need to organise appropriate services,” Dr Chrisp added.