Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Getting drunk isn't an accident, it's deliberate: It's time Health Minister Edwin Poots treated it as such

Drunk people should be kept out of A&E departments, according to one nurse
Drunk people should be kept out of A&E departments, according to one nurse

All too often, it’s a small few who make life unpleasant for the many.

Nowhere is this more true than in our emergency departments. Night after night, week after week, patients and health service staff must contend with the antics of the intoxicated few.

Often, it’s a case of grinning and bearing it in the hope they’ll sober up, come down, fall asleep or simply disappear into the night. Too often however, events can take a sinister turn.

It’s a depressing sign of the times, that it’s become necessary to erect signs asserting the right of hospital staff to work free from violence and the fear of assault.

Earlier this year in response to concerns raised by constituents, UKIP's Northern Ireland leader David McNarry MLA raised this very issue.

David called for the introduction of holding areas, where those suffering from the ill-effects of drugs or drink could be contained – allowing resources to be focused upon those who need them most in Emergency Departments. It’s indicative perhaps of just how out of touch Edwin Poots is, that he rejected David’s proposal.

Despite the Minister's inaction, the issue refuses to go away. That’s why I was pleased to see it gained national prominence at this week’s Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Conference in Liverpool. As reported in Monday’s edition of the Belfast Telegraph, Uwem Otong, from the RCN’s South East Northern Ireland Branch said, "I do agree that people who are intoxicated need help. But the truth remains that alcohol intoxication is not an accident.”

To read the story click here.

So why does the Health Minister continue to allow it to be treated as such? Why, are so many forced to run the gauntlet of threats, violence and intimidation? And why are so many afflicted by drink and drug addiction forced through Emergency Departments, when the help they require would be better provided elsewhere?

Given the public spending constraints within which all departments must operate, the Minister’s seemingly unwillingness to act on this issue should concern us all - not just those of us backed up on the Minister’s trolleys in emergency departments across Northern Ireland.

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