August 14, 2008

Inside Health: NHS Dials Up Drinkers’ Helpline

By Lyndsay Moss

WHEN it comes to tackling Scotland's damaging relationship with alcohol, the NHS is keen to give anything a try - at least once anyway.

Now it seems plans are afoot to help those drinkers who don't quite fall into the category of hardened alcoholics, drink gin for breakfast or collapse on park benches.

This is the large group of people who do not have a major problem with alcohol, but are perhaps showing signs of trouble to come.

The Scottish Government has already been targeting such drinkers through subtle advertising campaigns, pointing out the effects alcohol can have on health and families.

Now there are moves to create a resource where drinkers can receive advice on intake levels over the phone.

The phoneline will be offered by NHS 24, more widely known for its role in directing patients to health services out-of-hours.

But the organisation's annual review this week heard that it was keen to expand its role in other ways.

This includes what is so far entitled the "alcohol brief intervention helpline".

An NHS 24 insider said the project was "still at an early embryonic stage".

Even so, a pilot project could be launched by next spring.

"It will be a telephone-based service that would offer advice related to alcohol consumption," the source said.

"It would be aimed at people who may not have a major alcohol problem.

"But it might be that someone goes to their GP or to A&E with a condition or injury which may be linked to alcohol.

"They could then be referred to a special phoneline where they may receive information on safe levels of drinking and other advice."

How well such advice would go down with your average, overindulgent middle-class drinker remains to be seen.

But NHS 24 is keen to examine how best the service might work before it is rolled out.

There are also plans to work with health boards to record breastfeeding rates.

The aim is for health visitors to target those mothers most in need of extra support, particularly in disadvantaged areas of Scotland.

It seems NHS 24 is hoping to improve the nation's health - maybe then it will have fewer calls to cope with in the evenings and weekends.

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