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GPs effective at treating alcohol misuse says review

By Lilian Anekwe

Researchers have backed GPs' to screen and treat people for alcohol misuse, after a gold-standard systematic review found that brief interventions in primary care are effective at reducing alcohol consumption.

A review by the Cochrane Drugs and Alcohol Group has shown that screening patients for excessive alcohol consumption, followed by a five to fifteen minute counselling session, reduces alcohol consumption in patients for up to a year.

Last month, Pulse exclusively revealed details of the enhanced service that will form part of the Governments promised £50m of new clinical funding. Tackling alcohol misuse in primary care was also recommended in Lord Darzi's Next Stage Review of the NHS.

A meta-analysis of 25 trials of 7,619 patients, including 24 trials conducted in general practice, found that patients who were given a brief counselling session had lower alcohol consumption after one year than patients in a control group.

The interventions – which researchers said were given ‘in a normal clinical setting and within the time-frame of a standard consultation' – reduced alcohol consumption by 38g a week – the equivalent of two and a half pints of beer.

Professor Eileen Kaner, a professor of public health at the University of Newcastle, told Pulse brief interventions could be given in a routine consultation.

‘There's a really rather large number of trials that consistently show that identifying patients who are drinking to harmful levels, then giving them even very brief advice, does lower alcohol consumption.

‘Brief interventions are beneficial but you don't need to do much more than that. Giving people simple, structured advice is enough. There's no need to give longer counselling sessions because there's no significant benefit of longer-term interventions.'

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