Drinking sparks huge rise in liver disease

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THE health service is struggling to cope with a surge in cases of liver disease – with one specialist unit showing 14,000 people were admitted to hospital for treatment for alcohol dependency in a single year.

From Independent.ie

St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin figures show a 335pc increase in admissions with alcoholic liver disease between 1995 and 2010.

It is mostly due to the effects of heavy drinking, which can lead to a range of illnesses, including liver disease.

However, a conference of liver disease specialists will hear today that, despite the alarming trend, they may have nowhere to send many patients who need treatment for alcohol abuse.

A survey to be presented to the meeting of gastroenterologists today reveals how 80pc of doctors said they have no access to outpatient detox clinics.

And less than half were able to send the patient abusing alcohol to a nurse specialist.

The doctors are having to send patients to voluntary organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous instead to provide some form of support to the patients.

It comes against a backdrop of the figures from St Vincent’s Hospital liver unit showing 14,000 people were admitted for the treatment of alcohol dependence in 2011.

The new study will be presented by doctors from the Liver Centre at the Mater Hospital at the meeting of the Irish Society of Gastroenterology in Kerry today.

Lead researcher Dr Audrey Dillon said most of the doctors used clinical judgment as the main tool of assessment or screening in those patients suspected of hazardous drinkers.

More than one-third referred patients to an alcohol nurse specialist and nearly one in two to local non-statutory services like Alcoholics Anonymous.

One-third referred patients to psychiatry, but only 5pc were able to send patients directly to psychological services. Eight in 10 did not have access to outpatient alcohol detoxification services.

She said that the difficulty in accessing psychological support in particular contravenes recommendations from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

“These services are necessary and would be considered the gold standard approach to the management of alcohol dependence,” said Dr Dillon.

“The overall cost implications of providing early access to the psychological therapy needed to modify behaviour would be outweighed by lower rates of alcohol-related harm, psychiatric problems, alcohol-related cancers and liver disease, and would ultimately lead to reduced alcohol-related health service costs,” she said.