North East paramedics reveal toll of drink-related call-outs
Paramedics in the North East of England have described the huge burden of attending alcohol-related call-outs, with many saying they account for at least half the workload.
More than half (53%) of those questioned at North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) said they had been assaulted six or more times by drunken members of the public while on duty, and 42% said they had been sexually assaulted or harassed by a drunk.
Research by campaign group Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, found the majority feel that they should not be responsible for dealing with drunken patients, saying they place strain on resources and staff.
Many spoke of their frustration at having to deal with people who are intoxicated when they could be looking after other patients.
Balance wants to see alcohol made less affordable such as by introducing a minimum unit price to try to curb the problem.
One female paramedic with more than 10 years of service at NEAS described how she was called out to attend to a male who had chest pain at his home in Newcastle.
"We were almost on scene when we were diverted to another call of someone collapsed on the other side of the town," she said.
"This patient was lying in the middle of the road, drunk and abusive. We took him up to hospital to sober up and saw another crew coming in with a patient in cardiac arrest.
"I realised this was the patient we were sent to originally. The patient had arrested in the ambulance and did not survive."
Another said: "The domestic violence fuelled by alcohol stands out, as many a time the female is also intoxicated and won't press charges.
"One incident that stands out was when the female had been so badly beaten with a plank of wood, she was covered in blood and had teeth missing.
"It's hard to understand how someone who is supposed to love and protect this girl could do something like this."
Balance estimated that alcohol-related harm cost the region £911 million in 2013/201, with the NHS picking up more than a quarter of the bill.
The group surveyed 358 paramedics, representing 32% of the NEAS workforce.
NEAS chief executive Yvonne Ormston said: "Our crews don't just deal with drunk weekend revellers; our crews see the effects of alcohol at all times of the day and all times of the week, spread across our region and from patients of all ages and backgrounds.
"For our staff, this is more than a job. But alcohol-related calls take up far too much of our time and are often an abuse of our service, taking our resources away from patients who need us most.
"Intoxicated patients take much longer to triage on the phone and are more likely to be aggressive, placing staff in potential danger and increasing their stress levels.
"We take a zero-tolerance approach to assault and support staff every step of the way if they have been abused. All staff also have access to a counselling service and a number of helplines to ensure their mental health is looked after as much as possible.
"We are pleased to be working with Balance to highlight the issues we face."
Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: "It's outrageous that paramedics don't feel safe in their working environment as a result of other people's alcohol misuse. These are people who are there to help us when we need it most, yet they are living in fear of physical and verbal abuse on a daily basis.
"It's clear from this report that our paramedics are personally paying the price for the alcohol misuse of others. This is an unnecessary burden on time and resource and it is completely unsustainable.
"Our relationship with alcohol is out of control. We need to bring it under control by making alcohol less affordable, available and less widely promoted.
"We need the Government to support a range of targeted, evidence-based measures such as increasing the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol products, which has been shown to save lives, reduce hospital admissions, cut crime and lessen the financial burden alcohol places on frontline services."