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If drinking puts you in Emergency you’re a 'Bloody Idiot'


New Zealand, 18 December 2013


If your drinking puts you in an Emergency Department you’re a ‘Bloody Idiot’

Up to one in five attendances to Emergency Departments are alcohol related

A snapshot survey of 14 Emergency Departments (EDs) in New Zealand has demonstrated that almost one in five people are there as a result of the harmful use of alcohol.

The snapshot captured a moment in time at 2am on Saturday 14 December. It showed that an average of 18% of ED presentations in New Zealand were alcohol related. “Until now, we’ve had anecdotal evidence that the rates of alcohol presentations are high, but little data to go on”, says Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton, chair of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) Public Health Committee and a principal investigator for the study.

Researchers from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) conducted the survey concurrently in New Zealand and Australia. The survey provides the first national glimpse at the amount of alcohol presentations being treated in our EDs, especially over the festive season.

“The survey response rate from the EDs was a remarkable 80%, which demonstrates how keen emergency physicians and staff are to highlight the substantial number of patients they are treating in EDs due to excessive alcohol consumption,” said Dr Egerton-Warburton.

“Emergency physicians are sick and tired of dealing with the ‘bloody idiots’ who drink alcohol to excess and end up in the ED. If you work in an ED with 1 in 5 patients affected by alcohol, it’s more like a pub than a hospital. This is intolerable for staff and unfair on other patients.”

“Imagine attending an ED with a sick child or elderly relative and having your care disrupted or delayed by a person affected by alcohol,” suggests Dr Egerton-Warburton. “This happens on a regular basis in our EDs”. Future research will aim to validate these results over longer sample periods and quantify the disruptive effect on other patients attending the ED.

ACEM would like to be part of a coordinated effort to urgently address this massive public health issue. All public health interventions need to be considered including supply and pricing. “There is international research which shows a clear relationship between hours of sale and alcohol-related harm. There’s only three hours in the day when alcohol isn’t available for purchase,” says Scott Boyes, ACEM New Zealand councillor. Currently on-licenses can operate from 8am to 4am, and off-licenses from 7am to 11pm.

Dr Anthony Cross, president of ACEM, is keen to see even more discussions around the damage of excessive alcohol consumption, and the effects not only on the individual, their family and the community, but the dedicated and already overworked emergency department staff who are dealing with this on a daily basis.

“We all know excessive consumption of alcohol can cause major harm but it’s becoming clearer just how big the problem is,” comments Dr Cross. “Drinking to the point that you end up in an Emergency Department happens regularly but it shouldn’t be seen as a social norm; it is not just being a bit of a larrikin, it’s stupidity.”


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