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Frontline staff in the North East admit their problem with drink

Posted 18/08/10

Frontline staff across the North East have joined forces to let the region know they have had enough of the problems caused by alcohol misuse.

North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon has joined police officers, nurses, paramedics and firefighters to back the ‘I have a drink problem’ campaign, launched last week (Monday, August 9) by Balance, the North East alcohol office. They have been joined by landlords, bar staff, taxi drivers and others in professions who experience the darker side of drink.

Mary said “Alcohol misuse is having a serious impact upon our frontline services, not only in Tyneside but across the whole of the UK, and we need to do something about it. I will be raising awareness of my concerns in the House of Commons and urging Government to address the sale of extremely cheap strong alcohol which is blighting our region. I would also ask all of my constituents to have their say on the issue, by responding to the Balance and Home Office campaigns.”

The campaign aims to highlight the problems caused by alcohol sold at pocket money prices which are faced by frontline staff on a regular basis and encourage members of the public to support the Government’s intention to tackle the sale of cheap drink.

It was launched on the same day that Home Office officials visited the region to discuss proposals set out in a six week consultation on the way alcohol is priced and sold, which was launched on July 28. As part of the campaign, Balance staff were in Monkseaton, Whitley Bay and North Shields on Thursday (12 August) to encourage members of the public to show their support for frontline staff by completing a postcard setting out their views on alcohol price and legislation. They also visited Tynemouth town centre and Silverlink Business and Retail Park. In total, in North Tyneside, over 200 people signed up.

PC Anne-Marie Gray is backing the campaign. She said: “Alcohol misuse is a major cause of crime. For instance, if we’re called out to an incident of domestic abuse, more often that not, drink is involved.”

During her 11 year career, PC Gray has found herself in many tough situations where alcohol is a factor. She’s seen husbands put their wives in hospital and has undergone tests after potentially diseased blood was spat on her by a drunk.

“Drunks are unpredictable,” she warned.

“Sometimes, when you come face to face with an aggressive, abusive one, you fear you’re not going to make it through. The women can be worse. Some see you as fair game, pull your hair or stab you with a stiletto. I’ve even been punched in the face.”

The campaign is also being supported by Deb Smith, alcohol liaison nurse specialist at Sunderland Royal Hospital, who has witnessed her fair share of terrifying situations caused by alcohol misuse.

Recalling one particular incident, she said: “I was nursing a young woman who’d been drinking when she began lashing out. She grabbed one of my colleagues by the hair, pinned her to the ground and wouldn’t let her go. Nurses have definitely had enough of this kind of behaviour.”

Problems caused by alcohol misuse are stretching the region’s essential services to the limit:

A large contributory factor is that alcohol is 70% more affordable today, in relative terms, than it was in 1980.

Studies show that linking the price of alcohol to its strength and introducing a minimum price of 50p per unit would:

Dave Hogg, crime and disorder programmes manager at Balance, said: “We welcome the Government's decision to consult the country on the way alcohol is priced and sold and through our campaign we are calling upon the North East to let its voice be heard to help rid the region of the problems caused by alcohol misuse.

“Alcohol misuse is having a devastating effect on many of our communities and families and the lives of professional frontline staff in the North East.

“While we welcome measures that address the problems caused by cheap alcohol, simply banning below cost sales will not reduce consumption amongst heavy and young drinkers. Increasing tax or duty would penalise both moderate drinkers and community pubs. Introducing a minimum price would be fairer, more targeted and easier to implement.

“Alcohol is too available in too many places at too many hours of the day. Local communities need the powers to turn back the tide. We welcome the Government's intention to change the licensing laws to give more control back to local communities and take action against bad licensees without affecting the livelihood of those landlords who play a critical role in our communities.

“At the end of the day, we want communities where alcohol plays a role in bringing people together, not isolating them and creating problems for the frontline staff in our public services.”

To have your say on the Home Office consultation, visit www.homeoffice.gov.uk/crime/alcohol-licensing/

To support out frontline staff log onto www.balancenortheast.co.uk where you can support the I have a drink problem campaign and register your opinions on the Home Office consultation.