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Doctor Wants Drinking Programme To Go Nationwide

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By Mary Longmore of NZPA

Wellington, Sept 3 NZPA - A Wanganui doctor who invented a computer programme to help GPs and nurses identify and help problem drinkers wants to see it installed nationally.

Speaking at the NZ College of General Practitioners conference in Christchurch today, John McMenamin said his system flagged patients who had not been asked about their drinking.

They were asked three questions about their drinking habits and -- if the responses showed the patient was drinking more than recommended guidelines -- it led to a further questionnaire.

That scored their risk of harm from excessive drinking and offered to refer them to specialist help if necessary.

Dr McMenamin said while there was nothing new about nurses and GPs asking people about their drinking, "what is different about the programme we are offering here is that it is a structured approach with software which asks the questions and records the information".

He said a nurse would be trained in using the software.

Working with the Alcohol Advisory Council of NZ, Dr McMenamin said his programme had been trialled in and was now operating in 35 practices in Wanganui. It could be expanded to the rest of New Zealand at a "reasonably low cost".

He said lack of time and support within doctors' surgeries meant picking up alcohol problems had been difficult, and his system would make it easier.

It was modelled on a similar stop-smoking programme, which had been very successful in Wanganui, he said.

"This gives us an easy tool and an easy structure to use to be able to identify people in regard to their alcohol use in a way that fits comfortably and easily into general practice," Dr McMenamin says.

The Government recently announced sweeping liquor law reforms, including a split age for purchasing alcohol from bars (18) and off-licences (20), in the wake of a Law Commission report on liquor laws urging 153 changes.

It has banned the sale of ready-mixed drinks with more than 5 percent alcohol, made it an offence for anyone other than a parent or guardian to provide alcohol to an under 18-year-old and limited opening hours for bars and off-licences.

Announcing the reforms last month, Justice Minister Simon Power said alcohol was estimated to contribute to 1000 deaths every year and was a major driver of crime, implicated in 50 percent of all homicides.

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