Nearly 1.6million patients haven’t been asked by their GP if they consume too much alcohol following the end of a Government-run scheme
- Newcastle University experts scrutinised the scheme, which finished in 2015
- It paid practices £2.38 for each patient screened about alcohol consumption
- Data revealed 92 out of every 1,000 patients were quizzed before the scheme
- The rate dropped by three patients a month when the scheme was scrapped
Nearly 1.6million patients haven’t been asked by their GP if they consume too much alcohol following the end of a Government-run scheme.
Newcastle University experts scrutinised the move, which paid practices to screen new patients for excessive alcohol consumption.
Data revealed 92 out of every 1,000 patients were quizzed in 2006, two years before the financial incentive was introduced in England.
But the rate plummeted by three patients a month when the scheme was scrapped, according to the analysis of health records from 600 surgeries.
Scientists calculated this would mean 600,000 fewer adults were screened for high-risk drinking in England by the end of 2016.
The team also estimated the figure would have been around the 1.56million mark in September – but told MailOnline it ‘could be a lot worse’.
Newcastle University experts scrutinised a Government-run scheme which paid practices to screen new patients for dangerous alcohol consumption
Current Government guidelines recommend adults to drink no more than 14 units a week – the equivalent of six pints of beer or ten small glasses of wine.
Regularly drinking too much alcohol has repeatedly been proven to raise the risk of cancer as well as heart and liver diseases.
The Department of Health introduced financial incentives to encourage GPs to talk to patients about how much they drink in April 2008.
Under the scheme, scrapped seven years later, practices were paid £2.38 for each new patient that was screened.
In the three years since the Government pledged to hire 5,000 more GPs, the number of fully qualified doctors has dropped by around 1,000 (pictured) and the overall number of doctors is down by 148
The NHS recommends that adults drink no more than 14 units each week — that’s 14 single shots of spirit or six pints of beer or a bottle and a half of wine
Lead author Dr Amy O’Donnell revealed the roll-out of the incentive prompted a gradual rise in screening rates among GPs.
She said GPs also began to dish out more advice to high-risk patients, in hope of helping them cut back on their harmful drinking levels.
But data from four million newly registered patients showed rates of screening and advice-giving dropped almost immediately after it was scrapped.
The study, published in the journal Addiction, is the biggest review of evidence on the impact of paying GPs in England to screen patients for high-risk drinking.
It comes amid a GP recruitment crisis which has seen the average wait for an appointment breach the two-week mark for the first time on record.
Health leaders have repeatedly blamed the shortage on increasing work pressures, hefty tax bills and an ageing workforce.
Many GPs are retiring in their 50s, moving abroad or leaving to work in the private sector, prompting a record 138 surgeries to shut in 2018.
And a separate team of researchers earlier this week said the growing workforce crisis is only being worsened by a drop in income across the profession.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said addiction to alcohol is ‘something that GPs take very seriously’.
She added that family doctors will ‘still be discussing alcohol consumption with their patients where appropriate, and providing advice to those who have a problem’.
Professor Stokes-Lampard added that GPs just aren’t recording their actions in the way that was required under the scheme to be paid.
HOW IS THE NHS TRYING TO HIRE MORE DOCTORS?
- Health service last year revealed it would offer doctors working in Australia an £18,500 bonus if they moved to the UK to work for the NHS. A recruitment campaign reportedly tried to persuade doctors to move to the land of Harry Potter, Manchester United and William Shakespeare.
- NHS set up a scheme to recruit 2,000 GPs from abroad by encouraging doctors in other countries to apply to work in the NHS. But only 34 were recruited between 2015 and February this year.
- Trainee GPs offered a £20,000 ‘golden hello’ bonus if they take a job in hard-to-fill jobs. The young doctors must commit to work for at least three years in areas with notable shortages, including Hull, Plymouth, Lancaster and rural parts of County Durham and North Yorkshire.
- Matt Hancock suggested the tax-free pension ceiling could be lifted to try and persuade more existing GPs to work into their 60s. Currently doctors have to pay tax on any pension savings over £1m, but this amount could be increased.