Staff at Sunderland Royal Hospital’s emergency department are working under the threat of physical and verbal abuse from drunken patients.
The shocking toll that drink is placing on the North East’s urgent care services is revealed in a new report published today, with staff in urgent care roles dealing with the impact of alcohol misuse on a daily basis.
According to Kate Lambert, a senior emergency department (ED) consultant at Sunderland Royal Hospital, staff are working under “massive pressure”, with workers often having to work a full night shift without a break while having to endure verbal abuse.
“We see 10 to 15 alcohol-related cases on an average day,” she said.
“These generally fall into one of four categories: patients with alcohol-related mental health issues; those who have sustained injuries through ‘binge’ drinking; people with chronic alcohol-related conditions, many of whom are presenting at younger ages than ever before; and underage drinkers, mainly girls, who have drunk too much and ended up in vulnerable situations.
“The ED has more staff than ever before, but we are also catering with an unprecedented demand for our services.
“A few years ago, there used to be a ‘down’ time in the ED, but now it’s routine to work a whole night shift with no break. “We’re working under massive pressure, occasionally under the threat of physical assault and frequently on the end of verbal abuse from intoxicated patients.
“Nowadays, it is common for patients to present intoxicated, with resulting injuries, at all times of the night and often at 4am or 5am in the morning.”
Latest figures from Balance estimate that alcohol costs the NHS £2.7billion annually, with the North East figure totalling £242million, equating to £93 per person per year in the region.
The organisation continues to campaign for a minimum unit price for alcohol to be imposed.
Sue Taylor, partnerships manager at Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “It’s clear that alcohol is placing a huge burden on urgent care staff, who are committed to helping us when we need them the most.
“At a time when the NHS is already under massive pressure, alcohol is placing an unnecessary and unsustainable weight on time and resources.
“This report reinforces the fact that we need to bring alcohol harms under control by making alcohol less affordable, available and widely promoted.
“We need the Government to take action and introduce a range of targeted, evidence-based measures, such increasing the tax on the most harmful alcohol products, notably white cider, in the March budget – and introducing a minimum unit price, which would increase the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol products.”