In the UK we are known for our binge drinking habits and antics – sometimes, it is something that even seems to be celebrated. Even for those who are not accustomed to being part of drink and drug-fuelled nights out, you only have to switch on the television to catch a reality programme that shows nights out filled with paralytic youngsters.
It can be quite difficult to gauge how severe the problem is nationally and it may be surprising to hear that in 2016/17 it was actually only 6% of the London Ambulance Service’s workload that alcohol-related incidents contributed to. Although it doesn’t sound like a lot, given that this percentage comprises 71,868 people, it is clearly a significant concern.
When we take a closer look we can see that the biggest concern is that the figures do not seem to be improving. In the data collated by the Greater London Authority, they report that in the two years since October 2015 the figures of binge drinking incidents that the London Ambulance Service had been called out for only reduced by 110 with the highest level of incidents taking place in August 2017.
During the same period of time, although the actual heroin and cocaine overdose incidents were less common than binge drinking ones, the number of related incidents rose.
So what does this mean for the UK? In 2012 a study was carried out by Newcastle University experts who investigated the total cost of drink-fuelled incidents to the North East Ambulance Service. Their results indicated that “in one year there were an estimated 31,000 emergency calls for drink related incidents in the North East, a total cost of £9m…
This means one on ten of call-outs were alcohol related.” Interestingly, they extrapolated this proportion to the whole of the UK which translated to approximately £150m per year.
Their study noted that the statistics are likely to be conservative estimates as they were based on incidents where the injured person was clearly drunk. Although many of the reality TV programmes and the general culture of binge drinking is usually related to young people, Professor Eileen Kaner at Newcastle University stated that “this is not just a problem among the young, we found a large proportion of these call-outs were for middle aged people.”
If we take a step back to see how the UK’s statistics compare with that of others, the Australian report ‘Trends in Alcohol and Drug Related Ambulance Attendances in Victoria 2012/13′ published in May 2014, shows some interesting results. Unlike the London Ambulance Service, their figures show that in 2016/17 their reported alcohol related incidents were significantly higher than the previous year.
However in contrast to the North East Ambulance Service statistics that reported a wide range of age groups being involved, for Victoria, their average age from 2011 to 2013 was those in their late 30’s and early 40’s and over 60% were men.
In terms of ‘Opioid Analgesic-Related Attendees’ much like the London Ambulance figures, the actual numbers were much lower than alcohol related incidents but the trend showed a steady increase.
Returning to the UK the trends clearly have a wide impact on the way the ambulance services run. For example, in response to the large proportion of alcohol related incidents in the West End, the NHS operate a ‘booze buse’ – a response vehicle that is dedicated to patients who have had too much to drink. And in Soho they have an alcohol recovery centre that provides an alternative to the already pressurised A&E departments during the Christmas season.