Time for co-ordinated action on alcohol

March 25, 2004

This week's editorial discusses the current approaches in tackling the public-health impact of excessive alcohol consumption (especially in the UK), and concludes that enhanced awareness and training of primary-care professionals will be vital in managing future alcohol problems.

The editorial comments: 'In the UK, the Government's strategy is to set up an alcohol communications group to work with the Department of Health leading to a white paper on public health later this year. In the meantime, the Academy of Medical Sciences has issued a report (Calling time: the nation's drinking as a major public health issue, March, 2004) proposing a population-based approach to reducing drinking. Calling time demands that the Government takes the lead to reduce everyone's alcohol consumption, which contrasts with the Government's present approach, which is to target, in particular, the high-risk groups of binge or chronic drinkers. The Royal College of Physicians favours the Academy's approach over the Government's strategy, pointing out that "one third of the population is drinking at potentially hazardous levels".'

Primary care is considered vital in managing future alcohol problems. The editorial concludes: 'However, it is primary-care services that are best placed to identify and manage alcohol-related problems. We agree with the charity Alcohol Concern that those in primary-care settings need to be further trained to ask about drinking habits and to provide relevant information. But training and educational materials cost money, on which the Government's strategy fails to provide details. Dr Clare Gerada, speaking for the Royal College of General Practitioners, said "the RCGP is concerned it [the Government's strategy] will not make a significant impact without the resources necessary to fund change". A coordinated funded strategy on alcohol involving primary-care providers is needed, which is what we do not yet have. Targeting binge or chronic drinkers is a start, but cannot be done without support from properly funded relevant health professionals'.


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