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Alcohol-related A&E cases rise to 70% of workload at weekends

Published 22/12/2015

Alcohol places an avoidable burden on emergency care
Alcohol places an avoidable burden on emergency care

Almost three-quarters of weekend cases dealt with by an A&E department were related to excess alcohol consumption, a study found.

Scientists claim this places an avoidable burden on emergency care but that targeted interventions at weekends and in the early-morning hours could capture the majority of cases and help prevent future re-attendance.

Research carried out at a large inner city hospital in north-east England revealed that over a period of four weeks in 2012 to 2013, alcohol-related attendance varied from 4% to 60% on weekdays, rising to 70% at weekends.

The study was initially carried out by the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University over four separate weeks in February to March, July, October and December during 2010 to 2011.

During this time, 12% - 636 out of 5,121 - of the emergencies were alcohol-related, the study published online in Emergency Medicine Journal found.

Scientists also looked at alcohol-related cases over the same period the following year, by which time this figure had risen to 15% - 720 out of 6,526 attendances.

The report authors said: "This indicates a significant NHS burden if all such emergency departments in the UK are sustaining similar demands associated with alcohol-related attendance.

"Although older people may cost more per patient, younger people as a group are more costly to the NHS because they have more alcohol-related attendances.

"Our results suggest that emergency departments would benefit from routinely providing staff to cover the night and early-morning shifts, particularly at weekends, to cope with the high proportion of alcohol-related attendances at these times."

The analysis shows each case costs between £250 and £850 to treat, or £1 million every year, indicating substantial costs for urban emergency care departments across the UK faced with similar demand, say the researchers.

Attendance patterns were similar over both timeframes, with men aged between 18 and 24 arriving in the early hours of the morning and making up the bulk of the weekend caseload.

Traumatic injuries and mental-health issues were the most common reasons for seeking care while at least 498 people tested positive for alcohol on the breath test.

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