How practical is it to bring drunks to A & E?


Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has recently said that he would not dismiss the idea of charging drunks money if they end up in an A & E unit.

The fact that their injuries are a direct result of their choosing to be intoxicated rather than a direct accident or injury sustained by a sober individual has a huge bearing on why taxpayers should not be footing the bill for medical care of an individual who has drunk to excess.

The suggestion of charging drunks that attend A&E has been voiced for some years but now due to spiralling NHS costs, this may, at last, become a reality.

There are dangers to staff of trying to assist a verbally or physically aggressive drunk. There is disruption to other patients waiting to be treated being exposed to a drunk individual who has arrived at A&E, which in most units have a waiting time of up to 4 hours. Vulnerable children could also be exposed to such inappropriate behaviour.

More than a million people a year are brought to hospital with problems directly related to alcohol consumption and this figure is estimated to rise to 1.5 million by 2015.

The current problem is estimated to cost the NHS more than £2.7 billion a year almost twice the equivalent figure in 2001 This will rise to £3.8 billion a year by 2015 according to Alcohol Concern.

In A&E in 2013, 70% of attendance in the hours after midnight and 40% of weekend attendances are directly related to alcohol consumption.

  • 1 in 16 of all hospitals admissions are alcohol-related health problems account for 1 in 8 NHS day beds which equates to around 2 million and 1 in 8-day cases around 40,000
  • Up to 35% of all accident and emergency admissions and ambulance costs are alcohol-related
  • At peak times at A&E 40% of attendees have raised blood alcohol levels

In 2012 Alcohol Concern produced a map of UK alcohol-related health costs that are draining NHS resources. The figures find that inpatient costs of the 55-74 age group is over 10 times greater drain than the 16-24 age group.

The findings show that the higher age group are requiring more complex and expensive NHS care. The higher age group are attending A&E with conditions that are directly related to their alcohol consumption such as a stroke, a seizure, heart disease, cancer and liver disease or believing they can present themselves at A&E in order to access a detox

Apart from the adverse behaviour that a drunk brings to an A&E department there is evidence that there becomes an imbalance in the smooth and safe running of an A&E department and the difficulty that drunk patients cause should not be underestimated. Clogging up A&E departments with drunks puts the lives of other patients at risk due to the inability of getting to see a doctor sooner and with severe consequences

The fact of injured drunks putting the lives of other at risk is also evidenced with the ambulance service being fully stretched at weekends. Whilst coping with alcohol-related injuries the service is sufficiently depleted to attend to others who have a genuine health issue that is not intoxicated.