In a new scheme to be rolled out across England, people admitted to hospital who smoke will be offered quitting support, and those who drink alcohol will also be offered guidance on cutting down their consumption.

The scheme is part of a 10-year plan focused on improving public health outcomes through prevention, being implemented by the Government and NHS England.

What will the scheme involve?

Alcohol Care services are already being offered in a selection of hospitals in London, Bolton, Salford, Liverpool, Nottingham and Portsmouth; but these will be extended to 50 hospitals in England. Initially, the teams will be utilised in those areas with the highest number of alcohol-related admissions.

They, and the teams providing help on quitting smoking, will offer 20-40 minute guidance sessions, as well as bespoke advice on a patient’s individual risk. In these sessions, the teams will provide a mixture of written guidance and counselling.

Why is it being introduced?

Smoking and alcohol misuse are the two largest preventable contributors to early mortality. Both can increase the risk of several types of cancer, lead to heart disease, stroke, and cause a variety of other health issues.

In the last 10 years, hospital admissions related to alcohol misuse have risen by a sixth, and it’s thought that 1 in 10 women still smoke by the time they give birth. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of birth problems and miscarriage.

Together, health issues related to smoking and alcohol misuse are thought to cost the NHS £6bn a year in resources. So it is hoped that, as well as helping to improve public health outcomes, the scheme will also ease logistic and financial pressures on the NHS: the plan aims to prevent 50,000 admissions over the next five years, and a quarter of a million bed days (single day where a hospital bed is occupied).

How has the plan been received?

Largely positively. It has been welcomed by several bodies, including the Royal College of Physicians and the Mental Health and Smoking Partnership.

Charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) have praised the plan, but expressed disappointment at public funding being cut, which they say has a knock-on effect on existing community stop smoking services.

A spokesperson from the British Medical Association welcomed the schemes, but said that further measures to help prevention, such as minimum pricing units for alcohol, were also required to tackle the problem of alcohol misuse.

How much alcohol is bad for you?

There is no ‘safe limit’ for alcohol; contrary to previous belief, no consumption at all is thought to be more beneficial for physical health than consuming small amounts.

(Read more on how alcohol affects the body.)

However there are lower risk guidelines on consumption, which were set in 2016 by the Chief Medical Officer. These are:

  • no more than 14 units per week
  • with several alcohol-free days each week
  • and people who do drink 14 units in a week should do so over three or more days.

Drinking a lot of alcohol in a single session (binge drinking) greatly increases the risk of injury and alcohol poisoning. This is categorised as drinking more than six units in one sitting.

So drinking less than this, and keeping an eye on the levels you consume generally, will greatly lower the likelihood that you’ll need to be admitted to hospital for an alcohol-related problem.

Where can I get help quitting smoking?

People who are struggling to quit on their own can get help from their local NHS stop smoking service, or their GP.

There are several options available for those looking to give up smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy and prescription smoking cessation. The use of e-cigarettes or ‘vaping’ is also becoming a more widely used method for people who want to quit.  

(Read more about how quitting smoking affects the body.)