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1 in 4 in NZ emergency departments affected by alcohol

Melbourne, Victoria, Tuesday 20 December 2016


One in four patients in NZ emergency departments affected by alcohol

The latest snapshot survey of alcohol-related presentations to emergency departments (EDs) in Australia and New Zealand has shown once again that alcohol continues to impact on staff, patients and health systems in both countries.

In New Zealand, the survey shockingly revealed that one out of four patients were there as a result of the harmful use of alcohol.

Dr John Bonning, Clinical Director of the Waikato Hospital Emergency Department, said that there were still too many intoxicated people turning up in emergency departments.

“A quarter of patients in the ED due to alcohol is absolutely diabolical. The level of harm these people cause to their own health is bad enough but they also divert time and resources from other patients, including older people and young children,” Dr Bonning said. “They put an undue strain on our emergency departments and can be rude, aggressive, or - in the worst circumstances- even violent towards doctors and nurses.”

“This was a massive survey with 100 percent of NZ EDs participating” says Professor Drew Richardson of the Australian National University Medical School. “It is a devastating increase from the previous survey where one in seven NZ patients were there because of alcohol.”

“NZ needs to take a look at its drinking culture. There is a distressingly high percentage of alcohol affected patients. This poses a major public health issue and affects the safety of patients and ED staff.”

Professor Anthony Lawler, ACEM President, said that alcohol harm was a complex public health issue, but that ways to reduce it were clearly understood.

“Examples from overseas – as well as the considerable research that ACEM and other organisations have undertaken in Australia and New Zealand – indicate that there is a range of measures that can be pursued to curb the level of harm caused by excessive drinking,” Professor Lawler said. “These include reducing the availability of alcohol, taxation policy, and limiting exposure to advertising.”

There had been a considerable reduction in the levels of violent assault in New South Wales after policy-makers addressed the issue of the late night availability of alcohol, Professor Lawler noted.

“How much more suffering could be avoided if the New Zealand government adopted moderate, sensible changes to the pricing of alcohol and community exposure through the current high volume of advertising?”

“The decision to mandate the collection of data on alcohol-related harm in EDs is a good first step but it needs to be followed up with reduced availability and clearer pricing signals”.

- ENDS -

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