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Boost for alcohol treatment provision with publication of Programme of Improvement

  • Published date:
    1 November 2005

New measures to help people with alcohol problems were outlined today by Public Health Minister Caroline Flint, speaking at a conference organised by Alcohol Concern.

The Programme of Improvement includes publication of an audit of treatment, giving a national picture of trends of alcohol misuse and the availability of alcohol treatment services throughout the country.  Results from the study include:

  • Eight million people drink above recommended limits (alcohol use disorders).
  • The prevalence of alcohol dependence overall was 3.6% of the adult population, equating to 1.1 million people.
  • There was a decline in all alcohol use disorders with age. 
  • Levels of alcohol dependence varied between regions from 1.6% to 5.2%.
  • There were low levels of identification, treatment and referral of patients with alcohol use disorders by GPs.
  • GPs tended to under-identify younger patients with alcohol use disorders compared to older patients.
  • There were 43% more agencies providing alcohol treatment services than previously identified.
  • There was a high level of satisfaction with specialist services.
  • The estimated annual spend on specialist alcohol treatment is £217 million.

To improve services, £3.2 million has been allocated to new initiatives which will help identify and intervene early with people whose use of alcohol may be damaging their health.  These projects will take place in different health and criminal justice settings. They will be monitored and could provide the evidence needed to set up similar projects elsewhere.  It is expected that by identifying the problem as early as possible, it will help avoid the serious damage that alcohol dependency has on the health of the individual as well as its negative effects on their relatives and society as a whole.

Also being developed as part of the Programme of Improvement are tools designed to help Primary Care Trusts improve the services for problem drinkers by providing practical steps and best practice examples of delivering treatment to those who need it.

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said:

'Alcohol misuse has a devastating effect on millions of lives every year.  The publication of the alcohol treatment audit gives us, for the first time, a comprehensive understanding of the trends of alcohol misuse and service provision available across the country.  

'We have found that treatment does make a real difference. By helping 10% of dependent drinkers to give up alcohol, we can save the public sector up to £156 million each year. The projects that we are investing in today will encourage health professionals to intervene at the earliest possible stage to help people who may be causing harm to themselves or others through alcohol misuse.  The tools being developed for health organisations, will provide practical information to improve treatment services. This will help GPs identify patients with alcohol problems and allow them to get the support and advice that they need.'

From January 2006, the Department of Health will hold nine regional conferences to discuss with health providers how to use the Programme of Improvement to best effect in each area.

Notes to editor

1.  The Programme of Improvement is a commitment from the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy and the Choosing Health White Paper, both published in 2004. The supportive publications included in the Programme of Improvement are:

  • The Programme of Improvements guidance document itself
  • The Alcohol Needs Assessment Research Project (ANARP)
  • A range of local tools being developed from ANARP
  • Models of Care for Alcohol Misusers being developed by the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA)

2.  There will be over 30 brief intervention demonstration projects set up in a range of health and community settings. 

3.  The Alcohol Needs Assessment Research Project (ANARP) provides the first detailed nation picture of the need for treatment and the availability of provision.  The research was carried out by Kable, St George's - University of London and MORI. Please see the link above.

4.  Models of Care for Alcohol Misusers (MoCAM) provides a framework and guidance on the commissioning and provision of local alcohol treatment systems for hazardous, harmful and dependent drinkers.  It provides additional information for provide alcohol services for people with mental illness, homeless people and drug users who also misuse alcohol.  This is being carried out by The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA) and can be found from December 2005 at the link above.

5.  Over the next few months, we will be offering support by developing tools to assist with assessing the local levels of hazardous, harmful and dependent drinkers and line with MoCAM, identify gaps in local services. 

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