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Excessive drinking is a global health problem which is responsible for a wide range of both chronic and acute illness, and which costs the UK National Health Service (NHS) £1.7 billion annually. Current health policy aims to reduce alcohol-related problems by promoting early identification of risk followed by brief intervention to facilitate positive changes in drinking level or patterns of consumption. However, practical and philosophical barriers concerning screening and brief alcohol intervention have so far impeded its uptake in routine primary care. This qualitative study aimed to simultaneously explore and compare health professionals’ and patients’ views on the acceptability and feasibility of screening and brief alcohol intervention in primary care. Focus groups were held with (a) four primary care teams, (b) two general practitioner (GP) and two nurse groups and (c) six patient groups in the north-east of England. A thematic framework approach was used to analyse audio-taped data via transcripts. Both health professionals and patients reported that raising and discussing alcohol-related risk was acceptable in primary care, when combined with other lifestyle issues or linked to relevant health conditions. Targeted rather than universal screening was the most acceptable method of identifying alcohol-related risk and would fit well with existing practice. However, there was uncertainty among health professionals about the effectiveness of brief alcohol interventions and some disagreement with patients concerning who was best placed to deliver them. Health professionals felt that nurses were best placed for such work whilst patients reported that they would initially raise the subject with GPs. There was broad acceptance of brief intervention approaches but a lack of support and specific incentives for this work impeded its delivery in routine practice.
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