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Is Britain’s binge-drinking culture contributing towards failing A&E waiting times?

According to a recent article in The Guardian, it has been estimated that up 3 in 10 patients who go to A&E in the UK attend due to alcohol related issues, and this statistic increases over the course of a weekend (up to as much as 7 out of 10 after midnight on Friday and Saturday). In turn, this puts increased pressure on hospitals already struggling to cope with meeting targets set by the government.

Additionally, according to a government report in 2012, alcohol-related illnesses take up one in 26 bed days in the NHS; it’s not just time and staff resources that these have an effect on. The same report also stated that alcohol-related illnesses cost up to £1.7 billion a year, with the cost of clearing up alcohol-related crime at a further £7.3 billion a year.

Despite increased government spending and initiatives on cracking down on binge-drinking, the same report also claimed that 40% of men and 22% of women would ‘binge-drink’ at the weekend and the starting age is ever decreasing. What was once confined to the late teens now often starts at 16 or even less in some cases.

This particularly interesting article on The Guardian’s Healthcare Network blog puts into perspective the stresses and strains that A&E staff have to deal with at weekends when dealing with drunk patients.

So what can be done?

detailed report on the GOV.UK website outlines specific actions that the government have made to tackle the harmful drinking culture such as making cheap alcohol less available, stopping advertising to younger people and ensuring the industry shares the responsibility.

Additionally, small initiatives such as temporary shelter for inebriated people only in need of minor attention which frees up a lot of time for A&E to deal with real emergencies. Over the festive period in Southport, an alcohol recovery centre (labelled the ‘drunk tank’) was set-up by NHS Southport and Formby to take up to 10 patients and was equipped with showers, beds and healthcare professionals.

Furthermore, Edwin Poots, the Health Minister for Northern Ireland, has stated that he may consider charging patients who turn up to A&E departments intoxicated through drink or drugs as these people are partly responsible for missing of the government set targets.

He stated that the British healthcare principle is wonderful but “on occasions it is abused and we sometimes need to look at how we can make sure that abuse doesn’t take place.”

There have been objections to this idea, however. This article, again on The Guardian’s Healthcare network gives an interesting insight by a junior doctor working in the NHS.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also raised objections suggesting it was unfeasible. Roisin Devlin, the RCN’s regional spokesperson raised concerns as to “where the line would be drawn and who would decide which patients should be charged, it’s not something that emergency nurses would be keen to do.”

What do you think?

As #TeamJigsaw places Nurses, Doctors and Paramedics on the frontline we’d love to hear from you. What are your experiences of intoxicated people, is it as bad as is reported, and what do you think could be done to combat the situation?