September 7, 2008

Give Drinkers a Taste of A&E

By Mark Austin

I WAS given a fascinating snapshot of everyday life in our casualty wards last week.

The story was told to me by a senior hospital doctor and it reveals exactly how binge drinking is now taking an unacceptable toll on the health service and the taxpayer...

Paramedics rush a young man into A&E. He's unconscious and blood is pouring from a nasty head wound.

It's immediately clear the injury is a nasty one and because it involves the head, no risks are taken and a scan is organised.

It soon becomes apparent that the man is unconscious for one reason. He has literally drunk himself into a stupor and then collapsed. His fall caused the injury.

And a check of the records revealed exactly the same thing had happened just two weeks earlier.

On both occasions his treatment kept a doctor and a couple of nurses busy for five or six hours.

On both occasions he had a brain scan and on both occasions other patients whose injuries or sickness had not been self-inflicted were made to wait while the more urgent case was dealt with.

And on both occasions his treatment cost more than pounds 1,000.

That is just one binge drinker in just one hospital in just one town in this country. Multiply this case by many hundreds, possibly many thousands, and you get an idea of the cost to the NHS of booze- fuelled Britain.

And the expense doesn't end there. On Friday nights and at weekends our doctors and nurses need security guards to protect them from drunken violence. It all costs money.

It was suggested last week that patients admitted to casualty wards for alcoholrelated injuries or sickness should be charged for their treatment.

It's an interesting idea. But will sobering up the drunks and marching them off to the cashpoint really work?

Or will it rather deter their friends from calling an ambulance in the first place?

Some doctors fear that people will die if that happens.

Also, where do you draw the line on who pays and who doesn't? Much obesity is selfinflicted. Should those patients pay for treatment?

What about drugabusers?

Clearly there is no easy answer. But what's really needed is a major cultural change in the way we view drinking.

Most of us like a drink. But somehow we've developed into a society where excessive drinking is not only tolerated but is somehow taken for granted. There was recently a Government plan, quickly shelved, to take criminals convicted of knife crime into casualty to see the victims of stabbings. That was ill thoughtout.

But maybe habitual binge drinkers could be kept sober on a Friday night and taken on a tour of A&E wards.

Just to see the consequences... and the cost to us all.

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