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Alcohol plays central role in ambulance assaults

62% of staff assaulted by drunk members of public

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Around two thirds of ambulance staff in Scotland have been assaulted, while working, by members of the public who are drunk, according to research carried out by the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), published today.

The SAS, in partnership with Alcohol Focus Scotland, conducted a survey of frontline ambulance crews and 999 call handlers to show the effect that alcohol had on the service.

The survey with responses from 608 staff found that 62% said they had been physically assaulted by members of the public who had had too much to drink, while 76% of staff experienced verbal abuse.

Staff said that more than half of the callouts they dealt with at weekends were alcohol related, and during weekdays, one in six incidents (17%) involved alcohol, rising to almost half (42%) on weekday nights.

A quarter of responses to slips, trips or falls were alcohol related and it was considered to be a factor in almost half of responses to assaults.

Last year, SAS emergency ambulances responded to almost 750,000 emergency incidents and on a typical weekend, they attended more than 3,600 callouts.

Pauline Howie, SAS chief executive, said: “Alcohol has a significant impact on ambulance operations across all of Scotland. It is no longer a weekend phenomenon.

“The survey reveals the burden that alcohol puts on ambulance staff across the country. They are highly trained emergency clinicians and are frustrated that so much of their time is spent dealing with patients who are simply intoxicated. On top of that they have to deal with the violence and aggression that goes so often with alcohol misuse.

“Our frontline staff should not have to fear for their own safety when treating patients, yet alcohol is all too often the key factor in assaults.”

Any assaults or threatening behaviour were reported to the police and staff had access to support and counselling services, she added, saying: “As festive parties get into full flow this week we would ask people to drink responsibly and avoid becoming an additional patient for the NHS to treat.”

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The impact of alcohol on the Scottish Ambulance Service is completely unacceptable and unsustainable. It is appalling that ambulance staff are regularly subjected to verbal and physical abuse from drunk patients and bystanders.

“Encouraging individuals to drink less is difficult when we are surrounded by cheap alcohol that is constantly promoted as an everyday product. Addressing the affordability of alcohol through minimum unit pricing is an effective way to protect vulnerable citizens, create safer communities and support emergency services.”

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