More drunk girls in ED
Disturbing insight into nation's drinkingTALIA SHADWELL
The number of drunken women winding up in Palmerston North Hospital's emergency department at weekends has doubled in just two years, latest figures show, and they now account for almost half of all young patients presenting with alcohol-related injuries.
Figures recorded by the city's public health services found the number of women going to the emergency department (ED) on Friday and Saturday nights with alcohol-related injuries had increased by 100 per cent between 2009 and last year.
The 2009 survey, entitled How Pissed are the Patients?, found females over 15 accounted for 23 per cent of ED users with alcohol-related injuries on weekend nights. Half of them were aged between 15 and 24.
The results of the 2011 survey released yesterday show women over 15 now make up almost half of all people in that age group presenting at ED with alcohol-related injuries.
And, with the total number of young drunk people arriving at ED remaining static, the figures suggest young men's drinking behaviour might be improving.
MidCentral health promotion adviser Sharon Vera said the call for the community to address its binge-drinking culture was more relevant than ever as ED staff saw little improvement.
"Our message is everything in moderation. We are actually not against people drinking some alcohol, it's the drinking to get drunk that's the issue . . .
"I think you'll find it's happening across the country."
She said other key issues facing underage drinkers included consent, as alcohol clouded judgement around sexual activity and teenage girls were particularly at risk.
The editorial of the New Zealand Medical Journal's latest issue, released today, calls for the Government to take a hard line on the Alcohol Reform Bill currently before parliament.
A number of the articles focus on issues such as cost to health services and harmful effects on others caused by Kiwis who drink heavily.
MidCentral alcohol health promotion adviser Martin MacMaster and Mrs Vera, who led the Palmerston North hospital survey, backed that call. "People say we can't do anything about this, that it's ‘the culture' - that's a cop out," Mr MacMaster said.
In 2011, 13 per cent of those presenting to Palmerston North's ED with drunken injuries were not even old enough to legally buy alcohol. And it wasn't just youths causing a headache for medical staff - in the past year the oldest intoxicated patient was an 81-year-old man.
Because the survey was observational it did not record the injuries in which alcohol was a factor - such as those who presented to ED with "morning after" bumps, or people who sought treatment for injuries caused by drunks.
If these factors were included, the effects of drinking on hospital resources would be much wider, Mrs Vera said. Car accidents, sexual assault and domestic violence victims who suffered injuries through encounters with drunks could testify to that.
Drunk patients also took a toll on staff. An NZMJ-published study last year found that assaults on staff by drunk patients were common. Hospital staff perceived their workloads increased at weekends with most reporting a negative effect on their ability to care for other patients.
Mr MacMaster said drunk "queue jumpers" were an irritation for other patients waiting to be treated.
"These people are affecting others waiting to be seen . . . that is a problem, of course, for the hospital system. You have to deal with them first, because at the end of the day [emergency staff] are professional people and they are there to care for people."
Palmerston North Police Area Commander Inspector Pat Handcock said what ED staff saw in the wards was mirrored on the streets.
About 60 per cent - or more on some nights - of incidents police responded to at weekends were alcohol-related.
"Our experience is that, certainly, the latter days of the week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, alcohol harm from extensive drinking still takes up far too much of police time."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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