· Features

Alcohol and leadership

It is never easy to blog or speak about our personal alcohol use without sounding patronising, or a killjoy, or a prude – or all three.

This in itself may say something about the importance of alcohol in our culture and the central role it can play in our identity

However, I, like thousands of others, decided to have an alcohol-free January. Unfortunately for me, this year there was a lot of publicity saying it was a waste of time. Is this true, or is there an opportunity to learn?

At NHS Employers, we do a lot of work to promote and encourage health and wellbeing in the workplace. We provide case studies, toolkits, guidance and support etc. We push information through out website and through social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter. I decided to take the January alcohol challenge (unsponsored) following a challenge from the Employers team about our leadership example. I regularly tweet and recently posted something about my visit to Greggs for a steak bake.

The team thought it was funny, but asked if I could also do some healthy eating tweets. So a January alcohol challenge seemed to fit the bill.

The thing is, having worked in the NHS for years, often alongside some fantastic public health professionals, I know loads about the dangers of alcohol in our society:

  • 70% of peak time admissions to A&E are alcohol related
  • 50% of violent crimes and 52% of rape cases involve alcohol
  • 32% of domestic violence cases involve alcohol
  • Alcohol abuse costs the NHS an estimated £2.7 billion and £25 billion to the wider economy

I also know the personal impact – heart conditions, obesity, liver function, calories, financial cost. And I know the recommended units – 21 for men. There are 10 units in a bottle of wine, and four units in strong larger.

So why don't I stick with them? If we as health leaders know this makes sense, why is it so difficult for many of us to practise?

All this has been on my mind over the past few weeks and, whether stopping in January makes a difference... That reflection has been good in itself to consider my own relationship with alcohol, not just the society issues. So what difference has January made to me?

- I have reflected

- I have hopefully broken some habits: I don't need to drink wine to cook the Sunday meal!

- I can go to the pub to meet friends without drinking a pint

- I can relax in front of the TV with a diet coke

- I have exercised more

- I sleep better through the night

- I don't fall asleep in front of the TV

- I have lost a few pounds (lb)

- I have saved a few pounds (£)

- I have thought more about our leadership of our health and wellbeing in the workplace role

So what next? I am not considering giving up alcohol completely yet, although the thought did cross my mind, but for the rest of the year I am going to try and stay with my weekly units and I will cut down on the odd steak bake.

Dean Royles (pictured) is director of NHS Employers