Public health information must be evidence-based and not connected to the alcohol industry to be credible

The HSE today (Thursday April 23rd  2015) announced its new policy on alcohol-related education and communications programmes, which formally separates HSE public health advice from partnership with the alcohol industry. The HSE will be working with the recently formed Alcohol Health Alliance, joining the Royal College of Physicians, Alcohol Action Ireland, the Alcohol Forum and other partners to support evidence-based approaches to reducing alcohol harm in Ireland.

Marking the Health Services’ support for Action on Alcohol Week 2015, Dr. Stephanie O’Keeffe, HSE National Director of Health and Wellbeing, said today; ’Harmful use of alcohol is a very significant public health and safety problem in Ireland, with alcohol harm, from our own or someone else’s drinking, affecting 1 in every 4 of us. To reduce harmful alcohol use in Ireland, we need to take actions that are proven to work, and are supported by a credible evidence base.’

Dr. O’Keeffe said: ’In relation to alcohol-related information and education programmes, campaigns and partnerships, there is an inherent conflict associated with the alcohol industry playing a role in providing public health advice. It is our experience that Irish people expect public health advice to be provided by impartial, authoritative, expert sources. The HSE’s information programmes are supported by clinical experts, are evidence-based, have clear behaviour-change objectives, and their impact is measured and evaluated.’

Dr. O’Keeffe continued: ’The HSE will shortly publish a policy which will preclude HSE services, divisions or staff from taking part in campaigns, programmes or initiatives that are funded, or co-funded by alcohol manufacturers and distributors, and will be consulting with HSE funded organisations, recommending that they review their own policies in light of this position.’

Dr. Joe Barry, HSE Consultant in Public Health Medicine and Professor of Population Health, Trinity College Dublin, said today: ’Tackling large-scale behaviour change for improved health and wellbeing is complex, but Ireland has a track record of leadership in this field, particularly in Tobacco Control.   The approach is the same for any health issue and is set out in the Healthy Ireland Framework and the National Substance Misuse Strategy; bring together a wide range of sectors and organisations, and invest time, effort and resources in evidence-based action. ’

’The evidence-base on how to tackle harmful alcohol use is clear and includes:

  • Compelling evidence to support regulating the supply of alcohol by controlling price, availability and marketing
  • Strong evidence that alcohol screening and advice can reduce harmful drinking
  • Community actions, through local or regional inter-sectoral plans, are an effective way to focus actions to improve health and wellbeing and support public safety.
  • Information and education can help by supporting the actions above and improving knowledge of harmful drinking, but are of little value as standalone actions.

The Government has initiated an evidence-based response to harmful alcohol consumption in Ireland, bringing forward the Public Health Alcohol Bill with regulations that are proven to reduce alcohol consumption – minimum pricing, restrictions on availability, health labelling, limitation on advertising, and enforcement of these measures.’

Later in 2015, the HSE will be working with the Department of Health and other public health partners to create an information and education programme on alcohol, supporting both the upcoming legislative changes and promoting and supporting screening and intervention services and self-assessment tools.

Dr. O’Keeffe concluded: ’This approach to alcohol action within the Health Services is informed by our responsibility to protect health, and to promote evidence-based alcohol policy, alcohol programmes, harm reduction and public health education on health behaviours. We look forward to working with our Healthy Ireland partners in the public sector, and across wider society, to reduce alcohol harm, and support a population more informed on how alcohol affects our health and wellbeing, our work and relationships, our children and our society’.