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MPs criticise 'limited coverage' of alcohol screening DES

Parliament's spending watchdog has questioned the value for money of an £8 million scheme in which GPs screen new patients for harmful levels of drinking.

The Commons public accounts committee was critical that a DES launched in April 2008 only applied to newly-registered patients. It says it reached ‘only a small percentage of the population', and ‘is likely to have only limited effects'.

The committee calls on the Department of Health to review the first year of the scheme to find out if the 'limited coverage' and low numbers of people screened made it a 'meaningful and cost-effective intervention'.

It also criticised the lack of any incentives in the GP contract to provide advice and treatment for alcohol misuse.

John Pugh, Liberal Democrat MP for Southport in Lancashire and a member of the committee, said: 'It is incumbent on everybody to roll up their sleeves to attack this major public health issue, and more widespread screening is important.'

Dr Chris Ford, a GP in south London and a leading member of the RCGP sex, drugs and HIV task group, said: ‘The alcohol DES is a first step, but it must develop, and screening of all patients must become part of the QOF. At the moment we are not getting to the bulk of patients at increased risk of harmful drinking.'

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