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Support for people drinking above the government’s recommended limits

Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement

Support for people drinking above the government’s recommended limits

Examining innovative ways to help people who are drinking at hazardous and harmful levels is the subject of a conference being held today [19 November] by the Public Health Agency (PHA) in Antrim.

Dr Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive, PHA said:  “Alcohol has a significant impact on the health and well being of the population of Northern Ireland and as such is a key health and social issue. In Northern Ireland, alcohol misuse is estimated to cost around £680 million pounds annually, including costs to healthcare, policing, probation and prison services, social services and work absenteeism.[i]  Measures that attempt to reduce the overall consumption of alcohol are needed in order to start reducing these costs.”

Speaking at the event, Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland, outlined the Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety’s commitment to this issue: “Alcohol misuse causes real harm, for example it increases risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular disease; increases the risk of developing dependence and poor mental health; can lead to being involved in or causing accidents; and can increase risk of being involved in, or a victim of violence or assaults.

“The Department for Health, Social Services, and Public Safety recently published the updated the cross-departmental strategy for preventing and addressing the harms related to alcohol and drug misuse in Northern Ireland, known as the “New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs – Phase 2”. I am committed to ensuring that it is implemented as fully and effectively as possible.

“In particular, the strategy emphasises the need to promote and ensure the use of alcohol brief interventions in the health sector and beyond. I am committed to ensuring this is taken forward in the most effective way and today’s event is a key step forward in this regard.”

The key focus of the event will be examining an approach known as ‘Alcohol Brief Interventions’ whereby people drinking more than the recommended limits [ii]  are encouraged to think differently about it, with a view to assisting them to examine and ultimately change their consumption habits. It also provides people who do choose to drink with skills that allow them to consume alcohol in a safer way.

Owen O’Neill, Health and Social Well Being Improvement Manager, PHA explained: “There is extensive evidence to show that alcohol brief interventions are very effective at reducing drinking at both hazardous and harmful levels. It’s evidence-based, it’s cost effective and it’s a whole population early intervention approach.”

The conference will provide information on the introduction of a new Clinical Priority by the Health and Social Care Board for the delivery of Structured Brief Advice for Alcohol within Primary Care. It will also examine the evidence for providing alcohol brief interventions within Emergency Departments, Maternity and Criminal Justice settings and will here from initiatives both here in Northern Ireland and also from Scotland and England.

The conference is part of a series of workshops aimed at informing the development of a HSCB/PHA Alcohol and Drug Commissioning Framework [iii] 

Further information

For further media information, contact the PHA Communications on 028 9055 3663.

Notes to the editor

[i] Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. The Social costs of alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland for 2008/09. Belfast: DHSSPS, 2010.  www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/social_costs_of_alcohol_misuse_200809.pdf

[i][i] Daily alcohol limits are recommended by Government in order to avoid the health and social risks of excessive and binge drinking in any one session.  These are

Men
It is recommended that men drink no more than 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day and no more than 21 units over the course of the week.

Women
It is recommended that women drink no more than 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day and no more than 14 units over the course of the week.

Remember, that for each unit you drink over the daily limit, the risk to your health increases. It's important to spread the units throughout the week – you can't “save up” your units for the weekend or the office party.

Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol.  If they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk.

[i][i][i] The development of an Alcohol and Drug Commissioning Framework by the PHA/HSCB was identified as a key priority within the New Strategic Direction on Alcohol and Drugs 2011-2016. NSDAD). The framework will address all four tiers of service delivery and aims to advise HSCB/PHA on the future service delivery of alcohol and drug misuse services across the life span. The outcomes will be delivered through the framework are as follows;

  •          Improved consistency of service provision across the 5 Health and Social Care Trust areas
  •          Improved understanding of what works and commissioning of services better informed by evidence based practice
  •          Reformed and modernised service provision
  •          Integration of PHA and HSCB commissioning plans and priorities

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