The Scottish Mail on Sunday
NHS: NOW 5 GLASSES OF WINE A WEEK IS TOO MANY
EXCLUSIVE: New guidelines warn just a bottle and a half could be ‘hazardous’
TENS of thousands of Scots are set to be labelled ‘hazardous drinkers’ as the NHS steps up its war on alcohol abuse.
Scotland’s health service is introducing strict new guidelines saying men should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week – equivalent to a bottle and a half of red wine or six pints of lager.
The same recommended limit is already in place for women. Anyone who drinks more than that will be deemed at risk of developing an alcohol problem – and face a warning from their doctor.
Recent research has shown most Scots routinely drink above this limit – meaning a vast number of people could find themselves falling foul of medical advice.
Discussion of a new, lower drinking limit began earlier this year when the chief medical officers of Scotland and England suggested that neither men nor women should drink more than 14 units of alcohol
a week. Previously, the suggested limit for men was 21 units. But now we can reveal the health service is to embrace the suggested limit and use it as a benchmark to assess who is drinking too much.
Last week, Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell confirmed: ‘Clinicians will be using the new guidelines to advise people on how much alcohol they should be drinking in a typical week.’
Critics said the move was ‘a waste of time’ and that the NHS should target heavy drinkers.
The average weekly alcohol consumption for men in Scotland is 13.6 units, according to the most recent Scottish Health Survey – almost as high as the new limit.
Off-sales figures last week suggested the average Scot drank the equivalent of 41 bottles of vodka, 116 bottles of wine or 476 pints of beer last year – an average of 22 units a week.
The new limit will class thousands of Scotsmen, who previously regarded their alcohol intake as moderate, as hazardous or harmful drinkers. If they are honest during NHS appointments, they could see themselves being given health warnings and advised to drink less.
Scotland has one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption in the world and the Government has spent millions of pounds trying to reduce binge-drinking levels.
Earlier this year, the UK’s chief medical officers warned there was no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of drinking. Now NHS experts have published proposals to use the new lower limit during routine health appointments to determine whether patients are drinking at ‘harmful, hazardous or dependent’ levels.
The move will come into force through Alcohol Brief Interventions (ABIs), a scheme to screen NHS patients to check if they are drinking too much and offer advice on cutting down. Around 100,000 ABIs are carried out north of the Border every year.
A proposal being considered by the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, which sets out NHS treatment guidelines, says guidance on ‘harmful, hazardous or dependnician ent drinking’ in Scotland should be updated.
The proposal from Joyce O’Hare, health improvement manager at the Care Inspectorate, says: ‘There is a need for revised guidance for the management of harmful drinking and alcohol dependence to reflect current recommendations.’
Yesterday, the move was endorsed by Miss Campbell, who said: ‘An ABI is a short conversation between a health professional and a patient to prompt them to think about reducing their drinking.
‘It is up to the judgment of the cliCAMRA whether they think that someone will benefit from an ABI. To help them decide, there are a number of questions they will ask, mostly around a person’s particular drinking behaviours.
‘Clinicians will be using the new guidelines to advise people on how much alcohol they should be drinking in a typical week. However, these guidelines do not constitute a prescriptive definition of who is likely to be offered an ABI.’
Health boards are given targets by the Scottish Government, in a bid to pick up patients who may be problem drinkers. Under the scheme, patients can be offered a discussion with a medical professional who will ask them questions about how much they drink and if it affects their life.
The ten-minute conversation assesses whether the patient is drinking at a harmful level and they will be offered advice on how to reduce their alcohol intake if they are found to be drinking too much.
Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: ‘The change to the guidelines will turn hundreds of thousands of people into “hazardous drinkers”. If people are really problem drinkers they are drinking over 50 units of alcohol a week.
‘To deliver ABIs to people drinking over 14 units will be a waste of time and resources. It needs to be left to doctors to make their own judgments about whether someone is a hazardous drinker and needs help.’
Colin Valentine, national chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said: ‘We made the observation when the new guidelines were published that the chief medical officers had ignored evidence which showed moderate drinking can have a beneficial effect.
‘Only recently, we commissioned a report which found that those who had a local pub were happier, healthier and felt more integrated in their communities than those without.
‘Research has shown the mortality rate of moderate drinkers is lower than those who abstain altogether. is calling for a full public consultation into whether the new guidelines are fit for purpose and supported by evidence.’
The Scottish Health Survey found 23 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women consumed a hazardous or harmful amount of alcohol.
The new guidelines from the chief medical officers follows a review of the latest evidence on alcohol. They said the benefits of moderate drinking on heart health were not as strong as previously thought and that alcohol was associated with cancer, stroke, heart disease and accidents.
In January England’s chief medical officer caused controversy when she said the idea of a glass of wine being good for the heart was ‘an old wives’ tale’ and that people should have a cup of tea instead.
Yesterday, Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: ‘We welcome the chief medical officers’ guidance, which is based on a comprehensive review of the evidence on the health risks of drinking alcohol. In particular, it makes clear that alcohol causes seven types of cancer. Less than half of us are aware of this link.
‘The challenge now is to make it easier for people to make practical use of this guidance. As consumers, we need the right information at the right time to enable us to make informed choices about whether, what and how much to drink. We all have the right to know what we are putting into our bodies.
‘Mandatory labelling would help us understand and manage the risks associated with alcohol consumption. Alcohol is both addictive and carcinogenic and should not be seen as an ordinary product.
‘It is totally absurd that legislation requires more consumer information to be printed on a pint of milk than on a bottle of vodka.’
‘Problem drinkers are on 50 units a week’ ‘A waste of time and resources’