IBA in Primary Care – SMS Project

An innovative project to increase access to alcohol interventions through use of SMS text messaging, to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol misuse is one of the leading risk factors for ill health and early mortality, with more than 10 million people in the UK consuming alcohol at harmful levels, costing the NHS more than £3.5 billion each year in preventable illness. One tool to address this is Alcohol Identification and Brief Advice (IBA) which can motivate some at-risk drinkers to reduce their alcohol consumption to safer levels. It is estimated that the net saving to the NHS for each person receiving alcohol IBA could be on average £27 per year, over a 4-year period.

This project used SMS messaging as a method to facilitate access to an online version of the tool. It was completed by the Health Innovation Network in partnership with Alcohol Health Network and iPlato. Three GP Practices took part, and 11,560 text messages were sent to practice patients. The text messages contained a message about alcohol (“GP Practice Health Campaign. Improve your health, take a confidential & anonymous alcohol health check”) and a link to the tool. To date, 6% of patients have accessed the tool and 5% have completed it, showing this to be a promising way to increase access. This method could be a low cost, easy to administer way to bring significant health benefits to large numbers of patients, and cost savings to the NHS.