Home > ‘A quick question’ – alcohol screening and intervention.

Armstrong, Ruth (2013) ‘A quick question’ – alcohol screening and intervention. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 47, Autumn 2013, pp. 17-18.

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The Health Service Executive (HSE) did a feasibility test for alcohol screening and brief interventions in four hospital emergency departments during December 2009 and February 2010. Staff in the emergency departments asked attendees ‘a quick question’ about their alcohol use. Discussing the feasibility test, project manager Ruth Armstrong, Health Promotion HSE, explained ‘the initiative showed that there was good co-operation from the public, with 94% of people agreeing to be screened.  This shows the value of the screening but also helps to reassure staff that people were happy to take part.’ This view is further supported by a survey1 which found that there is near complete support (95% or over) for healthcare professionals asking about alcohol consumption where there is a link to the condition or treatment. While there is less support in the context of routine history taking, support remains strong at 89%. 

The HSE leaflet, A quick question, was developed as a resource for staff undertaking screening and carrying out brief interventions with service users during the feasibility test. The leaflet was based on the design and content of the UK Department of Health (2006) booklet, How much is too much.2 The content was designed to encourage people to consider drinking less. It contains information on standard drinks, risks from drinking alcohol, benefits of cutting down, planning your evening, partying safely and where to get further information and help.
Following the results of the feasibility test the HSE developed a new national programme for the education and training of nurses and midwives in screening and brief intervention for problem alcohol use. The framework to support this training programme, which was introduced during 2012, was developed by the HSE Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention project, Nursing and Midwifery Services (ONMSD) and a range of service providers. During 2013, the training programme is being rolled out to staff working in Tier 1 services as part of the National Addiction Training Programme within HSE Social Inclusion services.
Professor Joe Barry, project lead, outlined the purpose of the programme: ‘We are all aware of the harm caused by alcohol use in Ireland, and the cost to individuals, families and society – including the health service. Our health services are an ideal setting in which to screen people for alcohol use, and offer help to people with problem alcohol use. In order for this to happen, staff training is essential, and this framework provides the template for this training.’
A further screening and brief intervention resource has recently been developed in partnership with drugs.ie. An online alcohol self-assessment tool with video-based brief interventions will be rolled out on the drugs.ie website and FaceBook page. Those whose alcohol use is likely to be harming their health or increasing their risk of future harm are the main target group for this initiative.
(Ruth Armstrong, HSE)
1. Ipsos MRBI (2012) Alcohol: public knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. Dublin: Health Research Board. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/18022

2. ESRC Centre for Organisation and Innovation (2006) How much is too much? Drinking and you. London: Department of Health.

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