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Enough is enough: drunks in EDs being violent and harming others, Australia

In the largest survey of alcohol harm in emergency departments undertaken in Australasia, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) has demonstrated that alcohol harm is having a devastating effect on patients and clinicians in Australia and New Zealand.

In the survey of over 2000 ED doctors and nurses, released today at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, 92% of respondents reported having experienced assaults or physical threats from drunk patients in the last 12 months and 98% had experienced alcohol-related verbal aggression.

Incidents reported include:

  • a heavily pregnant ED nurse threatened with being punched in the stomach
  • an ED physician knocked unconscious and left with concussion and vomiting
  • a heart attack patient too intimidated by a drunk patient in the next cubicle to ask for help.

“This confirms what we have known for a long time,” said Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton, Lead Researcher for the survey, “ED clinicians are sick and tired of violence from drunk patients and how it affects their ability to treat other patients.”

She added, “It’s time for policy makers and society to say, ‘Enough is enough’. This violence is preventable with good public health policies.”

Leeanne Trenning, National Executive Director of the College for Emergency Nursing Australasia (CENA), said that emergency nurses often bear the brunt of alcohol-related aggression: “Nurses are being subjected to violence and abuse from the very people they’re trying to help. Intoxicated patients take up too much of our time and their behaviour negatively impacts the entire ED.”

Dr Anthony Cross, ACEM President, said the College is calling on governments to take more action to prevent alcohol-related harm. “We need a serious commitment to implement the policies we know can make a difference,” he said.

Dr Cross added that alcohol-related presentation data arenot collected in Australia and New Zealand. “Collection of such data would provide a clear picture of the extent of alcohol-related harm and help inform policy decisions.”

“ACEM also recommends the introduction of a screening, brief intervention and referral for treatment program for alcohol-affected patients in Australasian emergency departments. International research suggests that ‘Brief Intervention” can be an effective tool to identify and reduce harm from alcohol,” he said.

A snapshot survey conducted by ACEM in December 2013 found that up to one in three presentations to some EDs in Australasia were alcohol-related. Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton called for urgent interventions to restrict alcohol availability in “hot spots” as part of a commitment to reducing harms in emergency departments and the community.

AMA response to survey: Emergency Department Survey Reinforces The Need For National Leadership On Alcohol Harms