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Balance warns of 4th July alcohol impact on emergency services


Police officers on patrol

Posted 01/07/20

Balance is today warning about the potential impact of alcohol on emergency services as pubs prepare to re-open from this weekend.

Following scenes of alcohol-related violence last week and some pubs now declining to open on July 4 in the interests of public safety, Balance, the North East Alcohol office, police and campaigning charity One Punch North East have appealed for calm before any alcohol-related storm.

Balance says the existing problem of alcohol tying up so much time and resources of emergency crews cannot be allowed to continue in the “new normal.” Research highlights the shocking impact of alcohol on emergency teams during non-COVID times, with alcohol taking up to half the time of front line emergency services staff (1), and with an annual cost of around £209m to the NHS and £331m in crime in the North East alone. (2)

It comes as health leaders across the North East and North Cumbria appeal to the public to do their bit to protect the NHS.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “We share the concerns already echoed in the media of many colleagues in the emergency services about the potential for 4 July being a perfect storm of alcohol-related problems, and we are already seeing some NE pubs declining to open and expressing these concerns. It is coming to something when we prioritise opening our pubs before we open schools.

“All too often it is seen as “normal” for our police, our paramedics and our casualty wards to have to pick up the pieces from intoxication and from alcohol related violence. This is a situation we just cannot allow to continue.

“We have also seen the huge pressures the NHS, police and paramedics are working under, the long shifts they have worked, and are now starting to try to go back to some sort of normal. We saw some worrying scenes last week of alcohol related disorder. The risk now is that turning up the flow of cheap alcohol in our towns and cities will add a huge preventable pressure.”

He added: “We need to fundamentally review the role alcohol plays in our society – and that starts with the Government. They need to introduce an evidence-based alcohol strategy which protects the vulnerable, reduces the pressure on emergency services and reduces health inequalities. That means increasing the price of the cheapest, strongest products; reducing the number of places selling alcohol; and restricting its marketing to protect our children. It’s time to put people before the profits of global alcohol corporations.”

Dr James Crosbie, the NHS regional clinical lead for alcohol, said: “Like lots of doctors I'm anxious about what problems the opening of pubs on Saturday might bring. But this is more than just about one day. The NHS is not in the same place as it was prior to lockdown. Covid-19 precautions mean capacity in the system is reduced at a time when we need to be prepared to both deal with any new cases of the virus and also plan to reduce the backlog of routine cases that have built up.

"We need a serious debate about the role alcohol plays in society because the NHS can't afford to go back to the bad old days when weekends in A&E were dominated by alcohol cases and when one in five hospital beds were taken up by patients who drink at risky levels.(3) We need the UK Government to take evidence-based measures that would reduce the pressures alcohol causes, not just on the NHS, but on all the emergency services.”

One punch tragically robbed Kristian Thompson of his life, aged just 19. His mum Maxine Thompson-Curl subsequently set up One Punch North East as a campaigning group in 2014, which has since become a registered charity, and has spoken to thousands of schoolchildren at schools across the region about what happened to her son.

She said: “We are concerned about the re-opening of pubs at the weekend. We are concerned about the effects of alcohol and the consequences of drinking too much, as always, but also we are deeply anxious about the effects on our already struggling NHS, which everyone of us have helped for 3 months by keeping ourselves safe.

“My question is why we spoil that? We’d urge people to be sensible, think smart and keep safe.”

Chief Inspector Neal Bickford of Durham Constabulary said: “We are really pleased to see the pubs and bars reopening but we would urge people to act responsibly when the restrictions are lifted.

“Coronavirus remains a real risk to public health and we have seen some very irresponsible behaviour nationally in terms of mass gatherings and antisocial behaviour, so we strongly echo Balance in their wish to avoid overburdening the emergency services at this time.

“The vast majority of drinkers are responsible but we know some people will drink to excess or cause harm to others so we would encourage everyone in County Durham and Darlington to think twice about their actions and enjoy their night safely.

“The key advice is to know your limits and consider how you will get home safely.”

Alcohol was estimated to cost North East public services and employers around £1.01bn in 2015/16, including £209 million to the NHS and healthcare for services such as hospital admissions, A&E attendances, ambulance callouts and also treatment for alcohol dependency, and £331 million in crime and disorder, including 55,300 cases of criminal damage, 154,900 cases of theft and 20,000 cases of violence against the person.

A major report by the Institute of Alcohol Studies in 2015 highlighted the impact of alcohol on emergency services in England. The report was based on an extensive survey of nearly 5,000 police officers, ambulance and paramedic staff, accident & emergency department consultants and fire officers, demonstrating both the financial burden on the emergency services and the human cost to frontline staff.

It found:
• Alcohol takes up as much as half of the time of emergency services staff
• Violence against emergency services is commonplace, with 76% of police, and 50% of ambulance staff having been injured on the job as a result of drunken violence
• Up to 80% of weekend arrests are alcohol-related and just over half of violent crime is committed under the influence.
• In 2009/10 there were 1.4 million alcohol-related ambulance journeys, which represents 35% of the overall total.
• Estimates for the proportion of Emergency Department attendances attributable to alcohol vary, but figures of up to 40% have been reported, and it could be as much as 70% at peak times.