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Why I'm backing the Paying the Price campaign

Ian Blain

Ian Blain, James Cook Hospital

Ian Blain, consultant in emergency medicine, The James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough

Ian Blain has worked at The James Cook University Hospital for five years, including three as a consultant. He says it is quite common to see people suffering from injuries related to drinking too much alcohol all year around, but especially over the festive season.

“The emergency department is already busier than usual at this time of year because the cold weather makes people, particularly the frail and elderly, more susceptible to medical problems caused by the cold weather, such as severe chest infections, flu and breathing difficulties – not to mention slips, trips and falls on ice.

“At the same time, the fact more people are out drinking over the festive period means we see more people coming in with alcohol-related injuries or illness, putting even more strain on our department.

“It’s of concern to me that some people who are genuinely ill may put off coming into hospital at this time of year, because they don’t want to sit among those who are coming in suffering the effects of alcohol.

“It’s not unusual to find an elderly person with a fracture caused by a fall on ice or in the home coming in a few days after their injury, because they didn’t want to come in when they knew we’d be busy due to the festive season.

“At this time of year we get more people coming in as they have been in fights or injured themselves while drunk and it’s not uncommon for some people under the influence of alcohol to become aggressive, particularly if they face a long wait while other people with more serious illnesses are prioritised ahead of them.

“We have a zero tolerance approach to verbal and physical abuse of all kinds against our staff. We won’t hesitate to call our security staff or the police if we feel any of our patients or staff are under threat of violence.

“I have witnessed doctors and nurses – both male and female – having to deal with aggressive patients or family members in the emergency department - and often, that aggression stems from alcohol abuse. It’s something we simply will not tolerate in our department. This is also very distressing for other patients.

“I have experienced patients under the influence of alcohol swinging at me and kicking at me while I am trying to treat them and have had to call security to restrain those patients and control them.

“Even if a patient is aggressive towards us, we still have to provide any urgent treatment they require, we can’t just dismiss them.

“But because of our zero tolerance approach to abuse, the police may need to take them away for a cooling off period and they will then come back for treatment when they have calmed down.

“On a daily basis at all times of the year, but especially at this time of year, we are seeing more and more attendances and admissions related to alcohol, with all the associated costs.

“We’d urge people to think about the consequences their drunken behaviour may have on other patients. How would you feel if it was your mum or your gran who didn’t dare go to hospital with a genuine illness or injury for fear of witnessing or being a victim of drunken behaviour?

Unfortunately emergency department staff have come to expect alcohol related admissions as “the norm”.

Ian added: “You kind of expect it, particularly when you’re working out of hours and over the weekend or at bank holidays. You expect to see a lot of patients under the influence of alcohol and being aggressive.

“It’s quite worrying really for staff to become desensitised to it as it is so common all year around, but particularly at Christmas.

“That’s why it’s important to get the message out about the impact people coming into the emergency department due to the effects of alcohol are having on others – not just themselves.”

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Further reading

12 December 2016

Paying the Price - Urgent Care report

The impact of alcohol on the North East's emergency departments

Download PDF (380 KB)