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GPs warn of chronic shortage of alcohol misuse services

GPs have warned of a nationwide shortage of specialist services for alcohol misuse, with three quarters reporting a significant problem in their area.

The scale of the problem emerged as a Government watchdog said GPs should take on more responsibility for detecting and tackling the early stages of problem drinking in their patients.

In a report published last week, the National Audit Office warned too much responsibility was being passed on to drug and alcohol teams and said: ‘There is evidence that brief advice by GPs and health workers can reduce alcohol consumption and help prevent longer-term damage to health.'

41210642The report said the £8million alcohol DES that will take effect next April should encourage greater GP action.

But GPs have claimed they have been unfairly singled out when there are too few services available to refer patients to – a claim backed up by the NAO's own survey.

Its online poll of 1,453 GPs found 73% had too few rehab services in their area, 71% complained of a shortage of detox services and 63% said alcohol counselling services were insufficient.

The survey also found GPs had referred an average of 11 patients each for specialist treatment in the past year.

The NAO report concluded: ‘GPs point to patients' lack of awareness that their alcohol use is excessive, and a general shortage of local specialist services, as the most important reasons why they do not refer more patients for further help.'

Dr Clare Gerada, vice-chair of the RCGP and a GP in Kennington, south London, said there was solid evidence that less than five minutes' interaction with a GP could reduce problem drinking.

But she demanded action at a national level. ‘I blame the Department of Health in giving so few resources to helping improve the knowledge and skills with respect to alcohol.'

BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said brief GP interventions were being encouraged, but added: "The BMA's own report on alcohol, published earlier this year, identified the extremely variable availability of treatment services.

‘Even where these are available, there's also the fact that some patients may be reluctant to access them because they are often combined with drug treatment services.'

Chronic shortage of alcohol misuse services is hampering GP care GPs' warning over alcohol services

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