Treating drink-fuelled incidents piling pressure on NHS

Scottish paramedics believe alcohol plays a part in around half of all callouts they make at the weekend. Picture: Getty Images
Scottish paramedics believe alcohol plays a part in around half of all callouts they make at the weekend. Picture: Getty Images
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Paramedics were called out to more than 12,000 booze-fuelled incidents across Scotland in just six months, sparking concerns that “reckless patterns of drinking” are causing a strain on resources.

Calls involving drunk patients occurred more than 66 times per day during the first six months of 2015-16, when people were so intoxicated that it was noted on Scottish Ambulance Service systems as an additional factor.

These remarkable statistics show just how deep-rooted and complex a problem alcohol is in Scottish society

Jackson Carlow

Incidents have remained relatively stable since 2012, but total more than 90,000 in the last three-and-a-half years.

Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “These remarkable statistics show just how deep-rooted and complex a problem alcohol is in Scottish society. And not only is it harming those who are over consuming, but it is diverting scarce resources away from those whose need was not so avoidable.

“Of course the Scottish Government and NHS can always do more to discourage reckless patterns of drinking and provide more help for paramedics who have to repeatedly go into these challenging situations – often several times each shift.

“But ultimately this is a case of personal responsibility and that’s where the real change has to come from.”

Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the highest number of alcohol-related 999 call-outs in the last six months at 3,849, followed by nearly 2,000 in Lothian and 1,470 in Lanarkshire. Orkney recorded just three incidents.

• READ MORE: Over third of Scots admit to binge drinking

It follows a staff survey last month which revealed Scottish paramedics thought alcohol played a part in around half of all weekend callouts.

The failure to reduce the burden of alcohol-related incidents is a “tragedy” for patients and health workers, according to former GP Dr Jean Turner.

Dr Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “From a paramedic’s and a clinician’s point of view, you have to treat people, regardless of whether they are intoxicated. It is a tragedy that we have not been able to do anything to reduce alcohol consumption as people are doing themselves so much harm.

“People are suffering from more complex conditions and taking all sorts of medications, so if you add alcohol into the mix it can become much worse. It’s terrible when money is so scarce to put what can be an unnecessary pressure on the service.”

Dealing with drunken patients is frustrating for paramedics, who often fear for their own safety, said an ambulance service spokesman.

He said: “Alcohol has a significant impact on ambulance operations, at times taking crews away from those who need them the most.

“Our teams worked tirelessly to respond to significant increases in demand over the festive period, which was largely driven by alcohol.

“They are highly trained professionals who are frustrated by the amount of time they spend looking after patients who are simply intoxicated.

“Our staff should not have to fear for their own safety when responding to patients but alcohol is often a key factor in assaults.”