Impact of alcohol misuse on North East’s emergency departments

Dr Kate Lambert, a senior ED consultant at Sunderland Royal Hospital, who said: "There is unprecedented demand for our services and our staff are working under massive pressure, occasionally with the threat of physical assault and frequently on the end of verbal abuse from intoxicated patients."
Dr Kate Lambert, a senior ED consultant at Sunderland Royal Hospital, who said: "There is unprecedented demand for our services and our staff are working under massive pressure, occasionally with the threat of physical assault and frequently on the end of verbal abuse from intoxicated patients."

Alcohol misuse is placing an unsustainable burden on the region’s emergency departments and urgent care services, according to a new report released by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office.

The report reveals that the cost of alcohol-related emergency-department (ED) attendances at one of the region's largest hospitals has been conservatively estimated at £1million per annum.

The toll alcohol is placing on the region's urgent care services is revealed in the report, with staff in urgent-care settings across the North East dealing with the impact of alcohol misuse on a daily basis, including verbal, physical and sexual abuse.

The report includes a variety of interviews with consultants, nurses and other members of staff from across the region's urgent care services and was carried out to assess the impact of alcohol misuse on their working lives.

Unsurprisingly, they've had enough. In the region's larger EDs, it is common to treat 30 to 40 patients a day who have been drinking, diverting resources from other cases and placing a huge strain on department resources and the staff themselves.

Latest figures from Balance estimate that alcohol costs the NHS £2.7billion annually, with the North East figure totalling £242million, equating to £93 per person per year in the region.

Sue Taylor, partnerships manager at Balance, said: "Probably the most shocking aspect of our report is the fact that so many urgent-care staff expect to experience physical and verbal abuse as a result of alcohol, as part of their working lives.

"It's clear that alcohol is placing a huge burden on urgent care staff, who are committed to helping us when we need them the most. At a time when the NHS is already under massive pressure, alcohol is placing an unnecessary and unsustainable weight on time and resources.

"This report reinforces the fact that we need to bring alcohol harms under control by making alcohol less affordable, available and widely promoted. We need the Government to take action and introduce a range of targeted, evidence-based measures, such increasing the tax on the most harmful alcohol products, notably white cider, in the March budget, and introducing a minimum unit price, which would increase the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol products. Such measures would save lives, reduce hospital admissions, cut crime and lesson the financial burden alcohol places on the emergency services."