The annual snapshot survey of how many alcohol-related patients are cluttering emergency departments in the Christmas party season showed a return to the ‘baseline’ after last year’s very high ‘blip’.

The 4th annual snapshot survey results – take at 2am across 18 New Zealand emergency departments – showed 1 in 8 patients had alcohol-related presentations compared to last year’s 1 in 4.

ED doctor spokesman Dr John Bonning said last year’s results appears to have been a ‘blip’ but he still dealt with a lot of alcohol-fuelled patients across his weekend shift at Waikato Hospital’s ED. “So it’s still an issue and quite bad at this time of the year,” he said. “Caring for people with what could be described as self-inflicted harm impacts on our ability to look after other people in ED, the elderly, the very young.”

Bonning is the New Zealand faculty chair of the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine (ACEM) which carries out the annual survey across Australian and New Zealand EDs. He said drug presentations were more difficult to detect without formal tests and tended to not be seasonal but synthetic cannabis had in recent years been causing ED staff ‘grief’.

ACEM President Dr Simon Judkins added that the survey results continued to “paint a worrying picture of the impact of alcohol in Australian and New Zealand health systems”.

“What concerns me most is that ACEM has highlighted this problem for quite some time, and yet we continue to see alcohol advertising at sporting events, leaders across many public spheres promoting alcohol excess as an acceptable community standard, an ongoing neglect of legislation to impact this issue and a lack of investment in providing help to those affected.”

ACEM supports the Health Promotion Agency’s (HPA) low risk alcohol consumption guidelines, which aim to help you make an informed choice and help keep your risk of alcohol-related accidents, injuries, diseases and death low.

Be careful these holidays – EDs stretched to capacity in Christmas-New Year break

Bonning expected alcohol-related presentations to continue to be constant at EDs in the lead-up to Christmas.

“Then we tend to get absolutely slammed in the days after Christmas and New Year – emergency departments get unbelievably busy in those times”. He said this was partly due to the lack of access to usual primary health care, as general practices close for the Christmas-New Year break – and also people being out-of-town for their holidays.

Bonning said the message was that people needed to be sensible about their health, make sensible decisions about alcohol and eating and to be careful and safe on the roads. Also to plan their health care so they don’t present at ED on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day unless they genuinely need to be there because they are very ill or injured.


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