Welcome to my Blog. I hope you find the posts interesting, informative and perhaps even entertaining(!). I'll update this Blog with my responses to topical stories of the day, important news and tales of my travels up and down the UK, meeting our inspirational nursing staff.

The RCN represents almost 400,000 nurses in the UK and is the country's largest nursing union.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Save the NHS from alcohol abuse

This ‘Comment is Free’ article appeared today on the Guardian website:

We desperately need clearer labelling, tighter laws and better education to tackle the spiralling costs of excessive drinking.

In a seemingly unrelenting stream, new evidence highlights just how serious the nation's problem with alcohol has become. It has been estimated that the number of people being admitted to hospital as a result of alcohol abuse is rising by 80,000 a year, costing the NHS about £2.7bn annually. As the NHS Confederation highlighted last week, if this does not change, the NHS will soon be constrained by financial demands it simply cannot meet.

As well as causing extreme physical and psychological damage to those who drink to excess, alcohol abuse is putting undue pressure on already overstretched frontline healthcare professionals. Nurses, particularly in A&E, are faced with tremendous time pressures and difficult decisions everyday. The fact that more and more people are being admitted to A&E as a result of drinking themselves into a stupor, makes an already tough job even harder.

As anyone who has ever acted as designated driver will know, drunk people are often irrational and illogical. This makes the treatment process even longer than usual. The effects of alcohol can also mask serious problems, such as concussion as a result of a head injury, making the need for thorough investigation even greater. And then of course there's the fact that intoxicated patients often arrive in A&E accompanied by their fellow revellers. While supporting a friend is obviously no bad thing, the arrival of large parties of drunk people in a hospital can be disruptive and intimidating. This not only affects staff, but can create a fraught environment for the other patients arriving in A&E with life-threatening conditions.

Some commentators have argued that those being admitted to hospital with self-inflicted problems, like alcohol misuse, should pay for their treatment. We have always maintained that healthcare should be free at point of delivery for everyone. The widespread alcohol misuse we see today is the result of a historically permissive attitude towards drinking on the part of society as a whole. It is nothing less than an overhaul of the attitudes and habits of society that we need now. But the government does have a role to play in supporting everyone to live healthier lives.

Today the health select committee's inquiry into alcohol has published a report calling for tougher measures to curb the rising numbers of people suffering, or even dying, as a result of alcohol. It also highlights the importance of listening to what those on the frontline have to say about excessive drinking.

As we approach the general election, all political parties must accept the need to take urgent action to stop this dire problem spiralling even further out of control. The Royal College of Nursing is calling for a single mandatory code to ensure the alcohol industry and retailers are properly regulated and socially responsible. There needs to be clearer labelling to ensure consumers realise how much they are drinking, as well as tighter regulation on the advertising and sales of alcohol.

There also need to be more widespread campaigns, using all available channels including social networking, to ensure that everyone realises just how serious excessive drinking can be. Attitudes towards smoking have changed, and so society's attitude to alcohol can too. There needs to be a cultural shift towards safer drinking, especially among younger people, to help the NHS and to improve the health of the nation.

You can visit Guardian comment is free here http://bit.ly/8awvMW