SPECIALIST alcohol nurses have been put on duty around the clock at Wigan Infirmary’s A&E department in a bid to beat the booze epidemic.
Health chiefs want medics with special experience in treating alcohol problems to spot patients who need help.
They say the move is a high priority and is one of a series of measures to drive down a rising number of drink-related hospital admissions that cost the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each year.
A total of 67,891 people were admitted to hospital for alcohol-related harm across Greater Manchester last year.
Alcohol nurses are already in place in nine of Greater Manchester’s 11 A&E departments, including Wigan’s.
Under the plans, everyone admitted to accident and emergency will be asked whether they have had alcohol and about their alcohol use.
Anyone believed to have an unhealthy drinking habit will be flagged up to the specialist staff member, who might have a background in either treatment programmes, counselling or alcohol-related medicine.
Patients would then be invited to come back to speak to them in more depth and, where necessary, put into treatment programmes.
Alan Higgins, Greater Manchester’s lead Director of Public Health for alcohol, said: “The alcohol liaison nurses can pick up people who are turning up with alcohol problems and make sure they can get into appropriate treatment.
“There could be significant cost savings made to the NHS in reducing admissions to hospital beds.”
Public health bosses have been regularly reporting to the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities’ health commission on plans to tackle the epidemic and are leading efforts to introduce a 50p per unit minimum price to help curb the binge drinking culture.
Patients are asked three questions when they arrive about their relationship with alcohol, including how often they drink and how many units they typically consume.
A report by the Centre for Public Health earlier this year revealed that 53 Wigan women were killed by alcohol abuse in 2006/08 – a staggering 26 per cent rise compared with 2005/07.
A total of 71 men in Wigan died from health problems caused by drinking too much in the same period – although this figure has fallen by 16 per cent.
Hospital admissions in Wigan for alcohol-related harm also soared to 8,279 in 2008/09 – a massive 40 per cent increase in four years.
The report – entitled Impact of Alcohol in Greater Manchester – was published by the North West Public Health Observatory, at Liverpool John Moores University.
As well as examining hospital admissions and alcohol-related deaths, the report revealed that chronic liver disease claimed the lives of 92 men and 67 women in Wigan in 2006/08.