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Over 600,000 NHS staff encouraged to get into the Dry January spirit

At least 212 NHS organisations including hospitals and ambulance services have signed-up to Dry January and are actively helping their staff to consider an alcohol-free start to 2015.

It is a major increase on the 30 NHS organisations in last year’s pilot, expanding its outreach from 140,000 to 600,000 NHS employees – about half of the entire health service. All will receive non-judgemental encouragement, advice and support about drinking less.

The organisation is leading the programme, with funding from , to help the NHS participate in ’s annual national Dry January campaign. The resources being provided to the NHS include:

  • Top tips
  • Guides for NHS organisations on supporting Dry January with social media and other campaigning
  • Reminder wristbands
  • Pledge posters
  • Motivational wall charts
  • Q&A sessions online
  • Evidence and analysis

Alcohol use among NHS staff is thought to be typical of the wider UK population. However the NHS is at the forefront of public health, so intends to take a leading position on staff health and wellbeing. This goal was spelled-out in the NHS Five Year Forward View launched by NHS England in October 2014.

Programmes and policies on NHS staff health and wellbeing are currently increasing in quantity and quality. The benefits are demonstrated by quality evidence to include better morale, improved efficiency and patients receiving a better experience of healthcare.

Sue Covill, director of employment services at the NHS Employers organisation, said:

“We want NHS staff to enjoy their Christmas and New Year celebrations as much as anyone else and, for many, this will include alcohol. At the same time on-duty colleagues will be tackling the consequences of alcohol mis-use, either by helping intoxicated patients in A&E or by addressing long-term problems like liver sclerosis, cancer, poor mental health or heart disease. It is a compelling contrast.

“Even a mild drinking habit can lead to health problems in the future. NHS staff are fairly typical consumers of alcohol but they know the public looks to them for guidance and they see the harm alcohol does to thousands of patients. They are in a very special position where small changes to their own lifestyle can be communicated to others to inspire them – including reducing alcohol use. It’s entirely their own choice, of course, and they will be supported by the ever-increasing range and quality of NHS staff health and wellbeing programmes.”

Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said:

“It is great to see NHS Employers lead by example and once again support Dry January. Last year was a great success but I want to see us building on this in 2015. Evidence shows that taking a month-long break from alcohol can help us to reset our habits – not only helping us to drink less when we have a drink but also to drink less frequently.

“With support provided by NHS Employers and Dry January, I hope to see more NHS staff successfully complete Dry January, change their drinking habits and ultimately reap the long term health benefits.”

Jackie Ballard, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said:

“It’s great to see the NHS leading by example and taking up our Dry January challenge. Dry January is all about starting a new and honest conversation about our drinking and it makes perfect sense for health care professionals and other NHS employees to be leading the way.

“Research has shown that people will feel better, sleep better, save money and they may also lose weight by going alcohol free for the month.”

Findings from Alcohol Concern’s national Dry January campaign this year included:

  • 72 per cent of participants had sustained reduced levels of harmful drinking six months after completing Dry January.
  • The 23 per cent of people who had “harmful” alcohol consumption when they started Dry January are now in the “low risk” category.
  • Four per cent of participants were still dry six months on.

Long-term alcohol use is a serious health risk and lost productivity and absenteeism due to alcohol costs the economy 17 million working days and £7 billion a year (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2010).

Drinking within the Chief Medical Officer’s lower risk guidelines can significantly reduce risk of cancer, liver damage, heart disease and other serious health risks. But even a short-term period without alcohol can have many benefits including: improved sleep; weight loss; improved skin and hair quality and; saving money.

Dry January is a campaign run by Alcohol Concern, for more information and to sign up go to http://www.dryjanuary.org.uk. Join the conversation on Twitter a @dryjanuary and Facebook.com/DryJanuary. See http://www.nhsemployers.org/dryjanuary for resources.


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence figures are from ‘Alcohol-use disorders: preventing harmful drinking report 2010’: http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph24/resources/alcoholuse-disorders-preventing-harmful-drinking-costing-report2

NHS Employers