Drunks huge drain on A&E

Drunk patients in the emergency department at weekends are taking attention away from people with heart attacks and other medical conditions, Wellington City Council has been told.

But, while health officials yesterday called for limits on the availability of alcohol, bars and retailers continued to call for more importance to be put on personal responsibility, as three days of hearings on the council's draft alcohol policy drew to a close.

Health officials were among the final submitters yesterday afternoon, and supported 3am closing for bars and 9pm for off-licences.

"The earlier that there's closure, reduction of alcohol, the better," said Paul Quigley, emergency medicine specialist for Capital & Coast District Health Board.

Late at night at weekends up to 72 per cent of admissions were related to alcohol, he said.

That drew attention away from other patients with conditions such as heart attacks. "Their healthcare gets delayed by the presence of all the alcohol-related injuries."

Ruth Richards, public health physician for Regional Public Health, said cutting off-licence hours would stop spontaneous purchases by people whose judgment was impaired by alcohol.

"You can still plan alcohol consumption for entertainment, fun, enjoyment, life, whatever. But you do it when your mind is clear."

However, alcohol retailers described the earlier-closure plans as "tinkering" that would not solve problems.

"We're trying to solve an issue through purchasing when, in fact, we should be focusing on behaviour," Retailers Association chief executive John Albertson said. "If you're going to have 10 or a dozen drinks before you go into town, what are you going to be doing between 9pm and 10pm? You're not going to be out shopping . . . they're already home drinking."

Catherine Healy, national co- ordinator for the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective, said it opposed cutting off alcohol sales at the busiest time for sex workers and dancers. "The greater harm will come from displacing people into situations that will be a little bit more underground."

The Hospitality Association and bar owners felt the council should push for local laws punishing people for being drunk and disorderly in public, rather than punishing responsible businesses.

El Horno owner operator Mat Lear warned that cutting opening hours would mean the loss of jobs.


What Wellington's draft local alcohol policy proposes:

From December 18, the default position for opening hours nationwide will be 7am to 11pm for off-licences and 8am to 4am for on-licences. However, councils can set their own hours. Wellington's proposal is to limit liquor stores and supermarkets to selling alcohol from 7am to 9pm. On-licence hours would be 7am to 3am, or to 5am for "best practice" premises in the central "entertainment precinct", which would include Courtenay Place and Cuba St. Other inner-city bars would have to close at 2am, or 3am for best-practice bars.

The Dominion Post