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New Data Reveals Scale Of Alcohol-related Harm And Violence In Emergency Departments

Sobering new data released by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) reveals the scale of alcohol-related harm and violence in emergency departments – and its negative impacts on the patients, staff and carers within them.

ACEM’s Alcohol-Related Harm in Australasian Emergency Departments report surveyed emergency specialists, trainees, nurses, doctors and other staff who work in emergency departments (EDs) across Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia on how alcohol-related presentations impact the ED. The results show that alcohol has a significant and detrimental impact on staff, patients, and care – and that things are getting worse.

Key findings of the report include:

· 43.5% of ED staff frequently or often experienced alcohol-related physical threats, intimidation, harassment, or violence, and 70.5% frequently or often experienced alcohol-related verbal or written abuse, threats, intimidation or harassment from patients.

· 94.6% of ED staff reported that alcohol-affected patients had negative impacts on other patients in the waiting room and 86% said that alcohol-affected people cause other patients to wait longer for treatment.

· 68.2% of ED staff believed that incidents of alcohol-related violence in EDs had become worse over the last five years.

ACEM President Dr Stephen Gourley said, “The consequences of dangerous drinking are regularly seen in the ED with people presenting with injuries from alcohol use, or clinical intoxication. People also present with medical conditions from long-term alcohol misuse.”

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“Alcohol misuse not only harms the person consuming the drug, but also family, loved ones, whānau and the broader community. It can also have a significant impact on the operation of EDs and on the safety and wellness of staff, patients, and other people in EDs.”

“I don’t know any emergency clinicians who don’t have a story about alcohol-related aggression in the emergency department. Most staff surveyed said that alcohol-related presentations negatively impacted their personal mood, increased their workload, and caused them to experience frustration, sadness, and exhaustion. In a time of workforce crisis and shortages, this is an issue that cannot be ignored.”

College of Emergency Nursing Australasia (CENA) President Dr Wayne Varndell said, “This report demonstrates the increasing impact that alcohol-affected patients have on staff safety, workload, wellbeing, workforce retention and timely access to emergency care for the community.”

“The findings recognise that solutions to alcohol-related violence and intoxication need to be more complex, thoroughly resourced and well-structured if risks to emergency healthcare workers, patients and to the community are to be reduced. While education and training are important, solutions must evolve to include a whole of healthcare and government approach.”

To reduce alcohol-related presentations and harm in emergency departments, ED staff outlined a range of solutions that include alternative treatment facilities for alcohol-affected presentations, stricter alcohol regulation and legislation, the enforcement of restrictions on alcohol sales or advertisement, increasing campaigns on alcohol harms, and improving access to community rehabilitation centres.

To keep everyone in emergency departments safer, ACEM is advocating for appropriately trained and supported, integrated security to work 24/7 in every emergency department in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia.

The ACEM President said, “Collective attention and real action are needed – from government, community, and health leaders – to acknowledge that alcohol harm is a real problem, but that we have the capacity to solve it together.”

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