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Dr John Bonning

The sound of heart rate monitors hum rhythmically oblivious to the sick and injured patients they observe.

It is a Friday night in Waikato Hospital’s Emergency Department and staff are systematically moving from one patient to the next.

It is an orchestra of hollow steps on a suspended platform, alarms and quiet murmurs.ED Alcohol Story

But in an instant the rhythm is interrupted – security guards race outside through double doors onto Pembroke Street.

A young man visiting his mate takes off down the hill for a joy-ride in a hospital wheelchair.

He was in ED with a friend whose knee had been smashed in a drink driving accident.

Between the pair they had drunk between up to 40 ready-to-drink (RTD) alcoholic beverages.

Their story would be just one of many to come through the department’s doors as a result of alcohol-related injury or illness.

Some will suffer from extreme psychosis; some will have injuries received from drunken partners and others from drunken pranks gone wrong.

But for a variety of reasons the primary prognosis is not recorded as alcohol but rather the injury treated by the ED

The result of the largest study into the effects of alcohol on EDs in Australia and New Zealand was presented at a conference hosted by the Australiasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM).

The staggering results showed that nearly half-a-million people across the two countries are treated in emergency departments for alcohol-related injuries or illness each year.

The study monitored eight emergency departments across Australia and New Zealand were monitored over one week in December 2014.

It found one in eight people using  emergency departments were there because of alcohol-related injury or illness.

It concluded that 8.3 per cent of all presentations in any one 24 hour period would be alcohol related, and this increased to 12 per cent from 6pm to 6am Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Seventeen per cent of the presentations suffered unintentional injury (whilst intoxicated) and 14 per cent had been injured due to someone else’s intoxication (such as assaults and motor vehicle accidents).

Associate Professor Diana Egerton-Warburton, chair of ACEM’s Public Health Committee and lead researcher said the cost is in the multi-millions and the burden on our staff is phenomenal.

“More than 90 per cent of staff report being physically or verbally assaulted by drunk patients,” she said.

“One drunk person can disrupt an entire ED,” said Egerton-Warburton. “They are often violent and aggressive, make staff feel unsafe and impact negatively on the care of other patients.”

“The sheer volume of alcohol-affected patients means they disrupt EDs more than patients affected by metamphetamines (aka Ice).”

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