Science

University and Welsh government partner to combat alcohol abuse

By Joe Fenn

Patients in hospital emergency rooms across Wales who appear to have been drinking alcohol will now be asked a series of questions designed to identify those with drinking problems.

Patients in hospital emergency rooms across Wales who appear to have been drinking alcohol will now be asked a series of questions designed to identify those with drinking problems.

Under a new programme, instigated by a partnership between the Welsh government and Cardiff University, if an emergency room patient is suspected to have been drinking, they will be asked a series of questions known as the Fast Alcohol Screening Test (FAST) by the nurse treating them. If their answers point to dangerous drinking habits, the nurse will give them advice on the spot and tell them where they can find further help.

The introduction of the scheme comes at a time when alcohol consumption is causing huge problems across Wales.

One of the major Cardiff University groups involved in the scheme, the Violence and Society Research Group, is focused on looking at the problems alcohol causes. The director of the group, Professor Jonathan Shepherd, explained some of the issues:

“Alcohol misuse is a major problem in Wales. The death rate is alarming and far too high. The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has identified tackling alcohol misuse as a major priority.”

Shepherd also highlighted the problem alcohol creates among the youth in Wales; “Most people injured whilst intoxicated are young. Intervening early in a problem drinker’s life can make a huge difference.”

The FAST test consists of four simple questions which ask how often the patient drinks more than eight drinks on one occasion, how often they suffer from memory loss due to drink, whether or not their drinking has affected their ability to fulfil other responsibilities and whether or not friends, family, or doctors have advised the patient to cut down on their drinking. Each possible answer is awarded different points and if a certain score is reached, the patient is deemed as being a problem drinker.

For example, if a patient answers that they have eight or more drinks ‘weekly’ or ‘daily or almost daily’, the score limit is reached on the first question and the rest of the questions are unnecessary.

If this score is reached, nurses can then offer advice whilst they treat the patient’s injury. This advice is coded for by the acronym, FRAMES: Feedback, Responsibility, Advice, Menu (where to find further help), Empathy and Self-efficacy. The feedback is designed to take a sympathetic approach, rather than lecturing the drinker.

The new scheme, according to Cardiff University, has been proven to be effective for the patient and also cost-effective for the NHS.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Sara Hayes, has sung the praises of the scheme, describing ‘brief interventions’ such as those in the FAST and FRAMES schemes as “the most effective approach to reducing problem drinking.”

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