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Most emergency staff suffer alcohol-related abuse

Half of ambulance staff injured because of drunken violence

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 26 October 2015

Around half of all ambulance staff in England experience injuries while working because of alcohol-related violence, according to a report published today by the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

Findings from the Alcohol’s Impact on Emergency Services report are due to be presented today during an oral evidence session of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm, as part of its inquiry into the impact of alcohol on these services.

The report presents an extensive survey of police officers, ambulance and paramedic staff, A&E department consultants and fire officers.

The surveys of frontline staff were conducted between June and August of this year, gathering responses from 4,022 police officers, 398 ambulance staff, 325 emergency department consultants and 169 fire and rescue staff.

Results showed that violence against emergency services was “ubiquitous”, with 76% of police and 50% of ambulance staff having been injured on the job as a result of drunken violence.

Between a third and a half of emergency service staff had suffered sexual harassment or assault in the line of duty.

Alcohol-related cases took up as much as half of emergency service time.

More than half of emergency service staff said they felt inadequately trained to deal with alcohol-related incidents.

The report recommends various policies including:

  • further trialling of Alcohol Treatment Centres (special facilities designed to help people who are highly intoxicated by providing a safe place to sober up, while offering supervision and elements of clinical care)
  • a lower drink drive limit (50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood)
  • better information sharing between police and emergency departments
  • more assertive use of licensing powers by local authorities
  • reducing the affordability of alcohol, for example through a minimum unit price.

Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) director Katherine Brown said: “Our report shows how alcohol takes up a disproportionate share of emergency service time, costing taxpayers billions of pounds each year.

“Many of these incidents are preventable, and alcohol therefore creates unnecessary problems for frontline staff, increasing their workload and preventing them from dealing with other important issues.

“We call on the government to better support our emergency services and implement policies to ease this burden.”

Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Dr Cliff Mann said: “We as a college are extremely concerned about the harm attributable to alcohol, including the impact on the ambulance service in the UK and our already hard-pressed emergency departments.

“Fellows and members of the College are confronted daily with the health impacts of alcohol use, and also experience the effects of alcohol intoxication on behaviour, including social disorder and lawlessness which sometimes spills over into the hospital environment in general, and emergency departments in particular.”

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