An improvement on last year’s “dismal” performance is hoped for when the annual snapshot survey of how many alcohol-related patients are in EDs is repeated this weekend.
Last year the 2am snapshot survey across the country’s 17 emergency departments found one in four patients were there as the result of harmful use of alcohol. Which was double the rate of the survey carried out at the equivalent time across Australia.
Dr John Bonning, the New Zealand faculty chair of the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine which carries out the annual pre-Christmas survey, said he hoped New Zealand could beat last year’s “dismal” performance.
He said the summer season had already had a poor start with Christchurch Hospital ED reporting more than 40 patients with alcohol-related injuries in the wake of ‘Crate Day’ – a radio station promotion – on December 2. At Waikato Hospital’s ED there had been a noticeable number of people the day after Crate Day with fractures that had happened when they were intoxicated the previous night.
Bonning said the message of the snapshot survey was to try and make people think twice about the impact of harmful drinking on emergency departments that are already busy doing “business as usual”.
“We want people to not harm themselves, or others, and end up blocking emergency departments in the small hours when resources are at a relative nadir. And when we are very busy looking after sick children and elderly people; who find it quite distressing with all the noise and the vomiting and the hangers-on.” He added that intoxicated people were often also a ‘little bit more labour intensive and obnoxious”.
He said ED staff were not a “modern day temperance movement” and believed people were allowed to drink alcohol and celebrate the festive season – but they needed to do it responsibly – and not injure themselves or others.
“Don’t get into a fight, fall-over or get behind the wheel of a car …or in any way end up in hospitals as a result of your intoxication.”
Bonning said the College supported policies that affected the availability of alcohol as way of preventing harmful use – like pricing, restricting advertising, licensing controls on corner store-type alcohol retailers and considering restricting opening hours for bars and clubs.
He said opening hour rule changes in New South Wales had shown that bringing back the closing time for bars one hour, for example from 3am to 2am, resulted in a significant reduction in the number of people who presented at local emergency departments.
The fourth annual snapshot survey will see every ED in the country at 2am on Saturday morning recording the number of people present as the result of the harmful use of alcohol.
Bonning said this would include people who are there as they are intoxicated and drunk people who have injured themselves from falling to fights. It also included sober patients present as they had been assaulted by an intoxicated person, been hurt in motor crash by a known drunk driver or children injured while their supervisor was intoxicated.
It will release the results before Christmas, along with Australia which carries out the same survey at 2am local time on Saturday morning. In 2015 the survey found 1 in 7 New Zealand patients were there because of alcohol – so the jump in results to 1 in 4 last year was seen as a “devastating increase” by the College.
The College and its annual survey was recognised recently across the Tasman with a VicHealth award for its work in the prevention of alcohol-related harm.