A&E patients ‘need to address alcohol intake’

MORE than half of patients attending emergency & departments (ED) who are not obviously drunk need to address their alcohol consumption, a study argues.

Almost 1,000 people attending EDs & in four hospitals around the country participated in the voluntary alcohol screening programme, which excluded those who were obviously intoxicated on arrival.

The screening programme found that 11% of respondents needed a referral to a specialist service because of their drinking, while brief advice was offered to a further 42% over their drinking habits.

Some 7% declined to take part and the remainder of people required no further intervention.

The finding that almost two thirds of respondents could be drinking too much arose out of research conducted from December 2009 to February 2010 in Cork University Hospital (CUH), Letterkenny General Hospital, Naas General Hospital and Waterford Regional Hospital.

In all, 944 patients attending the hospitals for a variety of ailments, were screened, and the figures vary between the different hospitals.

For example, 30% of those screened at Letterkenny General Hospital required brief advice, versus 41% in Waterford, 33% in Naas and 56% in Cork (albeit from a much smaller number of patients screened in CUH).

However, Letterkenny also had the fewest patients who required referral to a specialist service, at 3.5%, and had 60% of patients who required no further intervention.

The hospital with the highest level of referral to specialist services was CUH, although just 56 people in total were screened in Cork as the patients surveyed were in the Clinical Decisions Unit and not ED. &

By contrast, 170 patients were screened in Naas, 337 in Letterkenny and 381 in Waterford.

The study was carried out by the HSE under the guidance of Dr Joe Barry of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

The report states: “Staff felt that alcohol was by far the main drug problem encountered in their work and in some areas staff cited an increase in poly drug use, particularly cocaine and alcohol use.

“All agreed that there was a value in screening and delivering brief interventions, particularly as some staff felt that alcohol was becoming an increasing problem in emergency departments.

“While hospitals have alcohol policies, no hospitals have yet written a policy on how to address hazardous and harmful alcohol use, which are the main focus of this project.”

Patients arriving at the hospitals drunk, seriously ill, confused or agitated or those from nursing home or residential care were not screened.

Among the report’s recommendations is that all hospitals have dedicated alcohol liaison nurses working in EDs.


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