Alcohol is a substance that affects people’s ability to make decisions. It impairs judgement and can cause individuals to act in a way that they would not do while sober. Alcohol costs the NHS millions of pounds every year as it handles a large number of hospital admissions for injuries and illnesses due to alcohol abuse. It also costs the taxpayer in terms of police call outs to alcohol-related incidences and accidents. There is also the cost of subsequent court cases to take into consideration. All in all, alcohol consumption places a heavy burden on the economy.
A new report has highlighted the extent of alcohol-fuelled abuse that emergency services in England are subjected to. The report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies includes an extensive survey of paramedics, fire officers, police officers and A & E department consultants. It underscores the human cost to frontline staff as well as the financial cost to the emergency services.
The survey found that fifty per cent of ambulance staff and seventy-six per cent of police have been injured while working because of alcohol-related violence. Between thirty-three and fifty per cent of all emergency services staff have been subjected to assault or sexual harassment while at work, and around half of all emergency service time is taken up by alcohol-related illnesses and incidents.
More than half of emergency service staff do not feel they have sufficient training to deal with incidents relating to alcohol, especially as more than ninety per cent of ambulance staff and police have had to perform the role of another blue light service while responding to an alcohol-related incident.
According to Katherine Brown, Director for the Institute of Alcohol Studies, “Our report shows how alcohol takes up a disproportionate share of emergency service time, costing taxpayers billions of pounds each year. Many of these incidents are preventable, and alcohol, therefore, creates unnecessary problems for front line staff, increasing their workload and preventing them from dealing with other important issues. Police officers we spoke to would far rather be dealing with burglaries than Friday night drunks.”
She believes that the Government should be doing more to provide support to emergency services by implementing policies such as minimum pricing for alcohol units. She also feels that very late closing times in certain establishments could be brought forward.
The report was welcomed by Dr Cliff Mann, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. He said, “We, as a College, are extremely concerned about the harm attributable to alcohol, including the impact on the ambulance service in the UK and our already hard-pressed Emergency Departments.”
According to Dr Mann, alcohol use affects staff on a daily basis as they have to deal with the health impacts as well as lawlessness and social disorder it causes.
As well as highlighting how alcohol affects emergency services staff, the report by the IAS has outlined a number of policy recommendations for the Government, including:
- More trials of Alcohol Treatment Centres, which will provide highly intoxicated individuals with a supervised place to sober up, and will include some elements of clinical care.
- Lowering the drink drive limit to 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood
- More effective use of licencing powers by local authorities
- Introduction of a minimum alcohol unit price
- More effective sharing of information between emergency departments and police.
As well as the alcohol-related violence and injuries that emergency services must deal with on a daily basis, they also deal with a number of preventable illnesses. Alcohol addiction causes some health conditions including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease and some forms of cancer. By introducing a number of measures such as those highlighted above, the Government could be doing more to prevent a substantial number of illnesses and deaths each year caused by alcohol abuse.