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Drinking culture taking enormous toll on emergency services, report reveals

The "enormous" toll of excessive drinking on Britain's emergency services is laid bare in a new parliamentary report.

Police, ambulance and A&E personnel face a risk of violence and verbal abuse as they attend drink-fuelled incidents, the inquiry found.

It heard evidence of female police officers being subjected to sexual assault - while in one case a consultant told how he was kicked in the face.

The report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm painted a stark picture of the scale of resources devoted to dealing with alcohol misuse.

It called for a number of steps including lowering the drink drive alcohol limit and introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol.

Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, chair of the group, said: "Alcohol-fuelled behaviour resulting in criminality, fires or accidents is adding intolerable - yet often unnecessary - pressure on vital resources, and to the work of our emergency services personnel.

" It should be wholly unacceptable to hear of an A&E consultant being kicked in the face, medical staff having TVs thrown at them, or female police officers being sexually assaulted.

"And it's not just emergency staff who suffer; as this report describes, many other people are impacted too, from taxpayers who foot the bill, to patients who can't be seen promptly, or worse, those innocent people killed in avoidable drunk driving accidents."

MPs and peers took evidence from police officers, fire crew and paramedics.

In one area, 86% of police officers surveyed had been assaulted by people who had been drinking.

Evidence submitted also highlighted the issue of sexual assault. One statement said: "I can take my team through a licensed premise, and by the time I take them out the other end, they will have been felt up several times."

In some A&E departments televisions had to be secured to prevent them being thrown by drunks, while one doctor warned that "i nevitably if clinical staff are dealing with patients with alcohol-related problems, they do not have the time to deal with other patients".

The report recommended lowering the drink drive limit in England and Wales from 80mg alcohol/100ml blood to 50mg/100ml.

It also called for a minimum unit price to reduce the affordability of cheap and high-strength alcohol.

Joanna Simons, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "The costs of alcohol harm to the UK are huge, not only in terms of lives lost but also through the significant impact on society and our emergency services.

"Alcohol costs us all, even when we're not buying alcohol ourselves. What this report highlights is the enormous pressure our emergency service staff face every day."

Steve Irving, Executive Officer of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said: "The ambulance service attends too many patients suffering from alcohol-related injuries or illnesses, many of which would not occur without the consumption of excess alcohol.

"This takes valuable resources away from patients who may be seriously ill so it is clear that more widespread safe drinking, in moderation, would significantly relieve the pressure on ambulance services and the wider health economy, especially emergency departments of local hospitals."

Drink-fuelled crime is estimated to cost the economy £11 billion a year.

Figures released earlier this year showed the number of hotspots which are "saturated" with drinking venues has reached a new high.

There were 215 "cumulative impact areas" in England and Wales as of the end of March - the highest level since current records started in 2007/8.

Also known as "saturation zones" or "stress areas", they are places where officials have identified that the number, type or density of licensed premises are giving rise to problems.

They allow town halls to control the number of bars, clubs and pubs in a bid to cut crime or anti-social behaviour.

Henry Ashworth, c hief executive of the Portman Group, the social responsibility body for alcohol producers in the UK, said: "Official government statistics show significant declines in binge-drinking, underage drinking and alcohol-related crime in the last decade, but there is no doubt that all sectors must continue to support our frontline public services in tackling alcohol misuse."

A Government spokesman said: "Assaulting any member of the emergency services or NHS staff as they go about their work protecting and caring for the public is totally unacceptable - those found guilty can expect to face the full force of the law.

"The Government is working with industry, police, local authorities and other partners to make our streets safer.

"Our Modern Crime Prevention Strategy, published in March, announced new measures to prevent alcohol-related crime by improving local intelligence, establishing effective partnerships and equipping the police and local authorities with the right powers."

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