Background: Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE) is an acute neuropsychiatric condition caused by depleted intracellular thiamine, most commonly arising in chronic alcohol misusers, who may present to emergency departments (EDs) for a variety of reasons. Guidelines recommend a minimum 5-day course of intravenous (IV) thiamine in at-risk patients unless WE can be excluded.
Objective: To estimate the cost impact on the UK public sector (NHS and social services) of a 5-day course of IV thiamine, vs a 2- and 10-day course, in harmful or dependent drinkers presenting to EDs.
Methods: A Markov chain model compared expected prognosis of patients under alternative admission strategies over 35 years. Model inputs were derived from a prospective cohort study, expert opinion via structured elicitation and NHS costing databases. Costs (2012/2013 price year) were discounted at 3.5 %.
Results: Increasing treatment from 2 to 5 days increased acute care costs but reduced the probability of disease progression and thus reduced the expected net costs by GBP87,000 per patient (95 % confidence interval GBP19,300 to GBP172,300) over 35 years.
Conclusions: Increasing length of stay to optimize IV thiamine replacement will place additional strain on acute care but has potential UK public sector cost savings. Social services and the NHS should explore collaborations to realise both the health benefits to patients and savings to the public purse.