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Mayhem as drunks push our Ulster A&Es to the limit

Guards wrestle with violent patients while ill left lying on trolleys

By Lisa Smyth

Northern Ireland’s weekend drink culture is stretching our beleaguered health service to breaking point with NHS staff and facilities being swamped with boozed-up patients.

A Belfast Telegraph investigation has revealed vital resources are being tied up dealing with aggressive and violent drunken revellers — while some of the most vulnerable people in the community lie in agony on trolleys for hours on end.

Staff on the frontline have also complained that police are clogging up A&Es by bringing in people they have arrested who are too drunk to be put in cells.

A snapshot of a weekend on duty in A&E also revealed:

  • security guards wrestling violent patients to the ground;
  • potentially life-threatening complications of prescribing pain relief to drunken patients;
  • more than half the patients brought in are under the influence of alcohol;
  • underage drinkers taking up trolleys as they sleep off the effects of too much booze;
  • paramedics forced to bring people to A&E even though they are not ill.

Lisa Amos, deputy sister at the Ulster Hospital’s A&E, said: “It is difficult for the staff but unfortunately it is part and parcel of working in an A&E.

“It’s awful when you have patients lying on trolleys all over the place and you have people coming in so drunk they can’t move or speak and they don’t know where they are.”

Mrs Amos, who has worked at the unit for 16 years, said alcohol abuse has become an increasing problem for her staff.

“You have alcoholics who come in because they know they will get a bed and meal,” she explained.

“Then you also get people who have just got so drunk they can’t stand and on some occasions they are in such a bad condition that their breathing is compromised.

“We have even seen that happen in children as young as 11 or 12.

“There are also people who come in with injuries they have sustained because they are drunk.

“You might get someone in with a head injury who decides they want to go home but we can’t let them leave and then that causes further problems.”

Waiting times at A&Es came under the spotlight last weekend after it emerged an 86-year-old woman with a suspected stroke spent 34 hours waiting on a trolley at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The A&Es at the Ulster, Royal Victoria and Antrim Area hospitals in particular have struggled in recent months following the closure of the casualty unit at the City Hospital in Belfast — last week more than 150 patients in the three emergency departments spent over 12 hours on trolleys.

However, Jim Wells, chair of the Stormont health committee, said the public has a part to play in addressing the situation.

“This is absolutely ridiculous but having spent time in the waiting room at Craigavon Area Hospital myself on a Saturday night I can believe everything,” he said.

“The time I was at Craigavon I was the only sober person along with the triage nurse.

“At one stage a young woman was pinned to the ground by a couple of security guards because she was becoming aggressive.

“We must tackle our attitudes to drinking and I believe the proposed minimum pricing strategy is one way of doing that.

“However, I am alarmed to hear that the police are using A&Es as a dumping ground for people to sober up overnight.

“The staff in our A&Es have enough to deal with without this added burden.”

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