One in Five UK Hospital Patients are Harmful Drinkers

A team mainly from Kings College in London conducted as part of the first author’s MRC Addiction Research Clinical (MARC) Fellowship, has found that 1 in 5 in-patients in the UK hospital system uses alcohol harmfully, and that 1 in 10 is alcohol dependent.

They conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis that looked at studies of any design that reported the prevalence of one of 26 wholly attributable alcohol conditions defined by the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases, Version 10 (ICD‐10).

They looked at 124 studies which were all conducted in one or more of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom and in an in‐patient setting (general wards, intensive care units, accident and emergency departments or mental health in‐patient units). The 124 studies meant that they were reporting on a total of 1 657 614 patients.

Having arrived at what is a shocking statistic they have rightly suggested that hospital staff need to be skilled in the diagnosis and management of alcohol‐related conditions given the number of people that they will see as inpatients. They have also pointed out that formal screening for alcohol‐related conditions in hospital remain low and that needs to change

Given the fact that other less prevalent diseases such as diabetes, are routinely screened for and often have dedicated in‐hospital specialist care teams their study provides weight  for increased routine universal screening and support to improving everyone’s training concerning alcohol‐related conditions given this high frequency of encounters.

This study is very pertinent given the UK government’s development of a new alcohol strategy and the NHS 10‐Year Plan which included funding allocations to combat alcohol‐related conditions.

Last year figures suggested that at least 41 English hospitals do not currently have an alcohol care team (ACT’s) in place. This is despite the 10 year plan including a commitment to place ACT’s in hospitals with the highest rate of alcohol dependence-related admissions (according to this study that will be all of them!) although the plan for increasing ACT’s, does not seem to have to any material funding.

To view the whole report see

Roberts E, Morse R, Epstein S, Hotopf M, Leon D, Drummond C. The prevalence of wholly attributable alcohol conditions in the United Kingdom hospital system: a systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression. Addiction. 2019 Jul 3 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1111/add.14642. PMID: 31269539

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