Making contacts that count
6 January 2021 | Catherine Best, QN
Traditionally January 1st is a time for making new resolutions and forming new personal and professional goals; creating a sense of hope that our lives can be different.
Each year the month of January is dedicated to Dry January. Stalwart of New Year resolutions, Dry January is a time when people who drink alcohol are encouraged to give up for one month, ‘helping to reset their relationship with alcohol’. And the evidence is strong that it works.
For many, it brings insight into how their lives are being controlled by their alcohol consumption; others perhaps see it as a badge to be worn with pride. Whatever the motivation, being fully aware of the support and resources available could be the one thing that helps people take positive action and make sustained change a reality.
January is a time when healthcare professionals can capitalise on this motivation. It can be difficult however, for patients to make positive change, especially in some of the darkest and most dismal months of the year. By making every contact count, healthcare professionals can create an environment of trust and support by gaining insight into patients motivations to change, the barriers they meet and how they can be overcome. The ultimate aim, to encourage patients to make healthier lifestyle choices and to facilitate enduring change. One of those changes perhaps to be a reduction in alcohol consumption.
Empowering patients to do this successfully however, requires an understanding of the impact of alcohol misuse. For many, it is simply a social event; drinking alcohol does not cause problems. The guidance on alcohol limits is there for a reason and they remain within the recommendations. For others however, alcohol can be a crutch to help get them through the day; ultimately becoming the reason for getting up in the morning. Don’t forget, many too will be in denial of their alcohol consumption and the impact it has on their lives. Being mindful of all this, can make that short time available with patients, especially important.
Understanding the correlation between alcohol misuse and disease related complications, as well as the secondary impact of alcohol misuse, for example domestic violence, can also help healthcare professionals identify potential risks, before they become a reality.
The World Health Organization (WHO) produces a wealth of information to support an understanding of the impact of alcohol misuse. Such readily available information can support an understanding of the serious, often life-threatening impact of chronic alcohol misuse, including years lost, and in so doing, create an understanding, that it’s not as simple as ‘just giving up’.
Whatever the motivation, being fully aware of the support and resources available could be the one thing that helps people take positive action and make sustained change a reality.Catherine Best
Furthermore, recent statistical data published by the NHS highlights a number of major concerns regarding alcohol misuse, including alcohol-specific hospital admissions and alcohol-specific deaths. Concerns, which continue to present ever increasing challenges to the healthcare service and the incumbent UK government. Alcohol misuse however is not simply confined to the UK. It is a global concern, as evidenced by the Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, which highlights the significant challenges global leaders face when encouraging responsible drinking. With alcohol being responsible for 3 million deaths a year worldwide, the report makes for stark reading and reinforces the need to ensure that all healthcare professionals recognise that prevention is better than cure.
I’d like to conclude this blog with one thought. Healthcare professionals have been some of the most challenged employees during the pandemic. Their commitment and dedication to ensuring the health and wellbeing of the country has been exemplary. They have risked their lives and continue to do so every single day to ensure patients receive the care they so rightly deserve. They have worked increasingly longer hours, often living away from families and friends for the good of society and humanity as a whole, and they too are subject to the risks associated with alcohol misuse.
So, as a healthcare professional, if you are concerned about your own health and wellbeing including increasing alcohol levels, now is the time to be kind to yourself and seek help.
It may be a challenge ‘to do Dry January’ right now, when we are continuing to live through one of the most devastating times in recent history – and it’s the 6th January. However, health care professionals can still encourage people to think about their alcohol use and take action, using Dry January as a catalyst.
These resources have the potential to enable healthcare professionals to gain greater insight into how to care for and support patients, and their families, whose lives are controlled by alcohol misuse. For healthcare professionals registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) they can also help to meet revalidation requirements.
The e-Learning for Healthcare (e-LFH) Alcohol Identification and Brief Advice programme can provide greater insight into the impact of alcohol misuse and how to support those who need it the most.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides a multitude of resources to help understand how to implement Making Every Contact Count.
Don’t forget alcohol misuse also impacts on working lives. The Health and Safety Executive provides information to help support employers to effectively manage drug and alcohol misuse at work.