People with alcohol issues ‘slipping through the net’, health body warns

People with drinking problems could be “slipping through the net” due to health workers not recording their drinking habits properly, a national health body has warned.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said that thousands of people every year could be missing out on help and support to curb problem drinking, or a potential referral on specialist services.

It has called on health bodies to ensure people’s drinking habits are correctly recorded to help improve people who need support are offered it.

Logging information properly will also mean that patients are not repeatedly asked about their drinking habits, Nice suggested.

Health professionals should use a validated questionnaire to ensure the information on how much and how often people drink is appropriately logged, according to Nice’s new draft quality standard, which sets out improvements for care of adults with alcohol problems.

Nice said that a “large number of people who are dependent on alcohol are not receiving treatment”.

A 2018 study on the GP records of 1.8 million adults across the UK found that half had no information on alcohol consumption data.

Under 10% had a screening test score.

According to figures from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, there were an estimated 602,391 adults with alcohol dependency in England in need of specialist treatment in 2018 to 2019.

There were 107,428 people in treatment for alcohol in 2020 to 2021, it added.

Nice has asked health and social care services as well as criminal justice and community and voluntary services to ensure they have systems in place to use validated alcohol questionnaires when asking people about their alcohol use.

“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,” said Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at Nice.

“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.”

– The draft quality standard, which includes five statements about the diagnosis and management of alcohol-use disorders, has been put out for consultation until February 28.