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Alcohol puts huge burden on NHS

Louise Prime

Thursday, 21 June 2012

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Alcohol might be implicated in as many as 640,000 hospital admissions and 2 million visits to emergency care departments annually in England and Wales, shows the latest research. The study, published online today in Emergency Medicine Journal, found that more than half of patients who attended with alcohol-related injury were ‘hazardous drinkers’.

An independent researcher invited almost a thousand adults who presented for emergency care at Bristol Royal Infirmary to take part, anonymously, in the study; 774 patients were eligible and agreed. They were asked whether they had been drinking alcohol on the day of their attendance in A&E, as well as their average weekly consumption of alcohol.

The doctor or other clinician who treated these patients was asked whether they believed their attendance was directly, indirectly or not at all alcohol related; and whether injured patients had been the assailant, victim, or neither.

Almost a fifth (19%) of patients said they had drunk between half a unit and 50 units of alcohol on the same day as attending A&E, but this rose to 48% on a Friday night and 39% on a Saturday night. The mean was 10.6 units.

Of the 111 patients (14%) who thought their attendance was directly related to alcohol, a third were admitted to hospital and 87 presented with an injury. Just over half (55%) of these 87 said their injury had been inflicted by someone who had been drinking. More than half (54%) of those with an alcohol-related injury reported drinking more than the recommended weekly maximum, but a third (34%) said they drank no alcohol on a weekly basis.

Clinicians, however, believed that alcohol was implicated in more than a fifth of all attendances – directly in 14%, and indirectly in a further 7%.

The study’s authors caution that their results, from an inner-city hospital, may not be applicable nationwide. But they calculated that if they did extrapolate their figures “this equates to nearly 2 million patients annually in England and Wales” with alcohol-related injury or illness.

They add that the fact that more than half of patients with an alcohol-related injury reported drinking more than 21 units of alcohol each week “suggests that the majority of patients injured as a result of alcohol are hazardous drinkers, and that they incur high healthcare costs.”

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