NICE has issued draft guidelines urging healthcare professionals to collect data from their patients about how much alcohol they drink using validated tools so they do not miss out on available interventions.

A new draft quality standard sets out priority areas to improve the care of adults with alcohol-use disorders.

Healthcare providers across a variety of settings, including primary care and the community, must ensure ‘systems are in place’ to enable the accurate recording of alcohol use and to help patients who are at risk.

The guidelines recommend using validated alcohol questionnaires such as the Alcohol Use Disorder Test (AUDIT) or abbreviated versions of this questionnaire ‘when time is limited’. AUDIT is a new ten-question alcohol screening tool developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), modified for use in the UK.

Nurses and health care professionals working in the community are advised to use the questionnaire ‘to decide whether the person is at risk of harm and whether a brief intervention or referral to specialist alcohol services is needed’.

According to NICE, thousands of people each year could be missing out on brief interventions to help curb problem drinking or a potential referral to specialist alcohol services. The most recent data from the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities shows that in England, there were an estimated 602 391 dependent drinkers needing specialist treatment between 2018 and 2019. Only 28% of this group received support.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: ‘Many of us are asked about our alcohol use when we interact with health services, but if an appropriate questionnaire is not used, people with alcohol problems could be slipping through the net and may not be receiving the support they need.

‘We know a large number of people who are dependent on alcohol are not receiving treatment, and this could be for a variety of reasons, but as part of a health and care system that continually learns from data, we do know that using a validated questionnaire provides commissioners with the information they need to organise appropriate services.’

The new draft quality states it ‘does not ask for health professionals to do additional work’, but says information gathered should be correctly and appropriately stored, so patients avoid being asked repeatedly about their alcohol use.

Primary care and community services are advised to ensure that staff have accurate and up-to-date information about community support networks and self-help groups for alcohol-use disorders.

According to the new guidelines, healthcare workers should be familiar with how patients can access these services and should be able to offer patients information relating to the value of such services. For people with moderate or severe alcohol dependence, care should include psychological help, and pharmacological interventions should be offered where appropriate.

The consultation opened on 31 January 2023, and feedback can be made to NICE until 5 pm 28 February 2023.