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Almost a third of people seeking late-night treatment at Christchurch Hospital's emergency department (ED) are there because of alcohol, with most binge drinking before needing help.
Data from the University of Otago, Christchurch (UOC), released today shows alcohol contributes to 28.7 per cent of ED attendances between 11pm on Saturday and 8am on Sunday, and almost 20 per cent the night before.
The findings are part of a project carried out by students Rebecca Stewart and Manidipa Das to determine the effect alcohol has on the hospital's ED.
The pair spent 336 hours in the ED between November 15 and December 9 last year and found 5 per cent of all admissions (182 out of 3619 patients) during that time were related to alcohol.
More than 80 per cent of those affected by alcohol had been "binging", with 14 being the median number of drinks they had consumed.
New Zealand's Health Promotion Agency recommends no more than four drinks for women or five for men on a single occasion.
Das said a small number of those admitted had not consumed alcohol beyond the recommended amounts, showing that harm could still occur "within apparently safe limits".
Most of those affected by alcohol were males aged between 16 and 25 - although all demographics were represented in the data - and most were admitted for accidentally injuring themselves. Most of the alcohol they had consumed came from off-licence premises such as supermarkets and bottle stores.
UOC emergency medicine Professor Mike Ardagh, who supervised the Canterbury District Health Board-sponsored project, said the findings proved interventions in the city's drinking culture were needed.
He wanted the data to be used in the development of the Christchurch City Council's draft local alcohol policy (LAP), which would include restrictions on the hours alcohol could be sold.
"I think the figures sort of speak for themselves in terms of the size and shape of the problem."
Ardagh hoped to repeat the study after the LAP was introduced, possibly later this year.
St John Canterbury operations manager Pete Cain said alcohol played a significant part in the incidents attended by paramedics in Christchurch.
"Historically, this happened in the evenings during the weekend, but it isn't restricted to this."
Senior Sergeant Gordon Spite, of Christchurch police, said the UOC data was not surprising and
showed how "the later it gets, the more problems there are".
He believed the effect was even greater on ED staff than police, who were expected to deal with alcohol-related incidents.
A council spokeswoman said the council had not yet decided when it would publicly notify the draft LAP.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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