Alcohol dependency is the leading risk factor for early mortality, ill health and disability among 15 to 49 year olds in England. Alcohol is a grade 1 carcinogen and a key risk factor in the development of many long term conditions such as high blood pressure or hypertension, atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm), CVD and stroke. Millions of people are admitted to hospital every year with illnesses such as liver disease, heart conditions, stroke, breast, mouth or throat cancer, all of which can be caused by long term alcohol use.
In 2020, 1 in 3 of all alcohol specific deaths occurred in the most deprived 20% of the population, widening health inequalities. People with alcohol dependence and mental illness are some of the most vulnerable in our society and face significant stigma and barriers in accessing appropriate services. During the pandemic, it’s estimated there was almost a 10-fold increase in the number of deaths from mental and behavioural disorders due to alcohol. With some estimates indicating that less than 20% of alcohol dependent people are accessing treatment services, the NHS continues to see late presentations through emergency care, which as well as the ongoing impact on the individual and their families, creates demand for more specialist – and costly – care from the NHS.
Alcohol care teams
As part of the Long Term Plan, the NHS Prevention Programme has established alcohol care teams (ACTs) in those hospitals with the greatest need.
ACTs support patients and their families who are experiencing harm as a result of alcohol use disorders. They provide specialist expertise and interventions, including assessment, psychosocial intervention, abstinence advice, relapse protection, and onward referral to support patients to reduce or manage their drinking.
They are based in hospitals but link into both community alcohol services and wider social support for patients.
ACTs are being implemented within hospitals in the worst affected parts of the country and will have positive impacts on some of the most vulnerable people in society, as well as potentially preventing 50,000 hospital admissions each year from 2023/24.
The programme has worked with 10 early implementer sites to successfully optimise staffing levels and share learning and knowledge through the new Alcohol Care Team Innovation and Optimisation Network (ACTION). We are now working to rollout ACTs in a further 25 hospital sites across England focussing where the need is greatest. By the end of summer 2022, 22 sites were up and running with the right mix of staff.