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‘Novel’ service cutting hospital visits

A community health service is dramatically cutting the number of hospital visits made by one group of patients.

Poole Hospital’s assertive outreach alcohol team targets people who are recurring attendees at the emergency department or their GP because of long term alcohol misuse.

The team, comprising support workers Zena Harrod and Liz Bailey and led by addictions lead nurse Graeme White, provide intensive support, helping patients to get back on their feet, find other interests and even employment. Working closely with a range of other agencies, the team’s efforts have led to some impressive results.

In the six months before the service starting last September, more than 140 such patients attended the emergency department at Poole Hospital. In the six months after launch, that number is down to just 28. The figures for hospital admissions are just as impressive, falling from 84 to just seven in the same periods.

This reduction equates to savings of more than £90,000, while ambulance call-outs have fallen markedly, and the associated costs in time and resources to the criminal justice system, primary care, crisis intervention teams and police caused by alcohol misuse have also decreased.

Hospital attendances are an indication that users of the service, who often also have mental health issues, are struggling to manage their addiction, says Graeme, who won funding for the service from the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group after he approached a group of Poole GPs with the idea for the service.

The team aims to shift the focus from alcohol and therapy to more practical measures that can support sustained recovery and help patients move on from the cycle of treatment and relapse, for example developing new skills or interests.

“It’s really good news that the number of patients with long-term alcohol problems that need to attend hospital has fallen so quickly,” he said. “This means they are managing their addiction better, and receiving the support they need to get back on their feet.

“But there are no easy answers and alcohol addiction is a complex and specialist area.”

Liz says their role is a rewarding challenge. Between them Liz and Zena provide support to around 30 patients, offering as much – or as little – as each individual needs.

“Our ethos is the same as The Poole Approach, to treat everyone as an individual and with respect,” she said.

“The most rewarding part is getting to know people and sharing their journey – seeing people develop the freedom to live their lives.”

Dr Patrick Seal, GP and chair of Poole Central Locality with NHS Dorset CCG, said “Any initiative that helps people overcome the problems associated with alcohol misuse is very much welcomed as it is something that can affect any part of society and have a major impact on individuals and communities, not just in terms of health but also in terms of finance and resources.

“The funding gained for this project recognised the novel approach of the team and everyone involved would like to wish them every success with this project”.

Patients must be registered with a GP in Poole in order to receive support from the outreach team.

Date: March 2015

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Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Longfleet Road, Poole, Dorset BH15 2JB. Tel: 01202 665511

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