Drunk ED patients more likely this side of Tasman

21 December 2016

As we head into the summer party season a snapshot survey shows New Zealand has double the rate of alcohol-related presentations in emergency departments than across the Tasman.

The latest snapshot survey of presentations at 130 Australasian emergency departments (EDs) – including all New Zealand EDs — revealed that one in four New Zealand ED patients were there as the result of harmful use of alcohol, compared to one in eight in Australia.

Dr John Bonning, Clinical Director of the Waikato Hospital Emergency Department described the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine research findings for New Zealand as "absolutely diabolical" and there were still too many intoxicated people turning up in emergency departments.

"The level of harm these people cause to their own health is bad enough but they also divert time and resources from other patients, including older people and young children,” Dr Bonning said. “They put an undue strain on our emergency departments and can be rude, aggressive, or – in the worst circumstances – even violent towards doctors and nurses.”

Research lead, Professor Drew Richardson of the Australian National University Medical School, said it was a "massive survey" with 100 percent of New Zealand EDs taking part. “It is a devastating increase from the previous survey where one in seven New Zealand patients were there because of alcohol.”

“New Zealand needs to take a look at its drinking culture. There is a distressingly high percentage of alcohol-affected patients. This poses a major public health issue and affects the safety of patients and ED staff.”  

Associate Professor Diana Egerton-Warburton, the study's author, said over-stretched EDs were placed under "terrible strain" by individuals who drank far too much.

“Emergency doctors and nurses are sick and tired of having to deal with drunks who take up valuable resources and sometimes abuse or even physically attack staff, so if you’re going to drink, do it responsibly because we don’t want to see you in the ED this holiday season!”

Professor Anthony Lawler, the ACEM President, said that alcohol harm was a complex public health issue, but that ways to reduce it were clearly understood.

“Examples from overseas – as well as the considerable research that ACEM and other organisations have done in Australia and New Zealand – indicate that there are a range of measures that can be pursued to curb the level of harm caused by excessive drinking,” Lawler said. “These included reducing the availability of alcohol, increasing the price through taxation, and looking at its promotion and advertising, especially directed at young people through sport.

There had been a considerable reduction in the levels of violent assault in New South Wales after policy-makers addressed only one of these criteria, Lawler noted.


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