Alcohol abuse treatment criticised in report

Youngsters tackling alcohol abuse are not receiving the immediate help and support they need, a new report shows today.

The data, published by charity Alcohol Concern, reveals that whilst some hospitals in England recognise the scale of alcohol harm amongst young people, simple measures are not established in many A&E departments.

The research shows that only 12 (9%) of A&E departments questioned offer alcohol harm-reduction interventions. Of these, only eight have the same interventions for patients under 16.

Nearly half (48%) of A&E departments do not have referral procedures in place, meaning that health staff are unable to direct young people with alcohol problems to specialist treatment.

The findings are based on data obtained from 128 A&E departments through a Freedom of Information request.

The report also reveals that almost three quarters (73%) of A&E departments have failed to developed strategies aimed at reducing alcohol harm in young people.

Just under a quarter (24%) of A&E departments employ a specific person to deal with alcohol problems amongst youngsters and of these, only 17% could assist patients under 16.

Don Shenker, chief executive at Alcohol Concern, said: "Too often children get patched up in Emergency departments and sent on their way, only to repeat the same behaviour in the future.

"Attending hospital is a significant consequence of excessive drinking and often can represent a 'teachable moment'. Hospital staff can implement a number of strategies which will reduce harm to young people and reduce costs to the NHS in the long term.

"These are low or no cost policies and practices which can pay huge dividends in the long run. With the highest rates of underage alcohol related injuries in Europe doing nothing isn't an option."

The report outlines steps that A&E departments can take to help youngsters "at risk", including early intervention, and calls for hospitals to prioritise reducing alcohol abuse in young people.

Nigel Edwards, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "The amount of alcohol we consume is a society wide issue and the NHS can only be a sticking plaster for much more long term and ultimately more effective prevention measures.

"Getting the response right requires co-ordination across different parts of public services and Alcohol Concern's report clearly shows that, while some areas already have the necessary strategies and services in place, more needs to be done to make sure excessive drinking in the young does not become a long term, much more insidious, habit.

"In future under the Government's NHS reforms, there is genuine potential for new health and well-being boards to help lead this work so people get the most appropriate services."

The report states that according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) approximately 1,245 youngsters attend A&E departments in England every week for alcohol-related treatment, equating to 64,750 per year.

Alcohol Concern is the national agency on alcohol misuse, campaigning for effective alcohol policy and improved services for people whose lives are affected by alcohol-related problems.