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Keywords:

  • primary health care;
  • nurses;
  • alcohol;
  • brief intervention;
  • qualitative research.

Background.  Excessive alcohol consumption causes significant mortality, morbidity, economic and social problems in the United Kingdom (UK). Despite strong evidence for the effectiveness of brief intervention to reduce excessive drinking in primary health care, there is little indication that such intervention routinely occurs.

Aims.  This study aimed to explore primary health care nurses' attitudes and practices regarding brief alcohol intervention in order to understand why it is underexploited.

Methods.  The study design was qualitative, using a grounded theory approach to data collection and analysis. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 24 nurses from practices that had previously been involved in a General Practitioner (GP) led brief alcohol intervention trial in the North-east of England. A combination of convenience and purposive sampling was used to recruit subjects and gain a broad range of perspectives on issues emerging from ongoing data-analysis until data saturation occurred.

Results.  It was clear that although primary health care nurses have many opportunities to engage in alcohol intervention, most have received little or no preparation for this work. This has left nurses at a disadvantage as alcohol consumption is a confusing and emotive area for both health professionals and patients. An analysis of factors influencing nurse involvement in alcohol intervention outlined a requirement for clear health messages about alcohol, training in intervention skills, facilitation to enhance confidence regarding intervention and support to help deal with negative patient reactions.

Conclusions.  As current health policy is to encourage, sustain and extend the health promotion and public health role of primary care nurses, more attention should be given to providing them with better preparation and support to carry out such work.