BACKGROUND: Although screening and brief intervention is effective at reducing alcohol consumption in primary care and is recommended by guidelines, there are numerous barriers to its delivery. Screening newly-registered patients for alcohol-use disorders provides an opportunity for systematic collection of alcohol consumption data.
AIM: To examine how alcohol screening data are recorded in primary care, the extent to which they are recorded, and whether reported levels of consumption differ from general population data.
DESIGN AND SETTING: Cross-sectional analysis, with data collected from patients in the year after registration.
METHOD: Data on alcohol consumption were collected from The Health Improvement Network (THIN) primary care database from patients aged ≥18 years, newly registered with a general practice in 2007 to 2009, and compared with the Office for National Statistics Opinions (ONS Omnibus) survey.
RESULTS: A total of 292 376 (76%) of the 382 609 newly-registered patients had entries for alcohol consumption (units a week, Read Codes for level of consumption, and/or screening test). Only 25 975 (9%) were recorded as completing a validated screening test, most commonly AUDIT/AUDIT-C (16 004, 5%) or FAST (9419, 3%). Alcohol-use disorders are underreported in primary care (for example, higher risk drinking 1% males, 0.5% females) in comparison with the Opinions survey (8% males, 7% females).
CONCLUSION: Alcohol screening data are collected from most patients within 1 year of registration with a GP practice; however, use of a validated screening test is rarely documented and alcohol-use disorders are underreported. Further efforts are needed to encourage or incentivise the use of validated tests to improve the quality of data collected.