New emergency department (ED) data has reinforced the strong prevalence of takeaway alcohol consumption among patients requiring hospital treatment after drinking in Melbourne, particularly in suburban areas of the city.
The findings from St. Vincent’s Hospital and Monash Health hospitals (Clayton, Casey and Dandenong) are part of the Driving Change project, which asks all adults who present to the ED whether they drank alcohol before their attendance, where they bought the alcohol, and the location of the last drink.
Figures from St. Vincent’s Hospital, obtained between September and November last year, show that one in five patients (20%) attending the ED who had reported consuming alcohol in the preceding 12 hours had purchased their alcohol from packaged liquor outlets such as bottle shops. At Monash Health hospitals, data obtained during July and September last year show more than half of patients (55%) attending the ED who reported consuming alcohol in the preceding 12 hours had purchased their alcohol from packaged liquor outlets. The actual figures are likely to be higher with a significant additional proportion of patients indicating they were unsure of, or failing to disclose, the location from where they had purchased their alcohol.
With significant social distancing provisions currently in place and opportunities to consume alcohol in licensed premises curtailed as part of official responses to COVID-19, the data is a timely reminder of the need to enforce responsible retail and marketing practices and promote healthy behaviours associated with takeaway alcohol.
ACEM President Dr John Bonning said: “Consistently in recent years we have seen that a large proportion of people attending the ED for alcohol-associated issues have purchased most of their alcohol from packaged liquor outlets.”
“With large numbers of people now spending more time at home, the last thing our communities and frontline healthcare workers need is an increase in otherwise-avoidable alcohol-associated presentations at emergency departments.
“Despite lockdown conditions, emergency clinicians are still seeing tragic cases of alcohol-related harm presenting to EDs. People are stressed and anxious, and what we don’t want to see is people using excessive amounts of alcohol, often delivered straight to their doors, to try and relieve that stress. It’s not healthy and can lead to serious short and long-term consequences.
“We are concerned that online platforms may inadvertently promote binge drinking, and there’s the added risk that intoxicated people make poor decisions about social distancing.
“In the current environment, our emergency departments and hospitals need to maintain focus on the ongoing planning and response to COVID-19, as well as providing ongoing care to seriously ill and injured patients.
“In addition to the risks to individuals and the additional burden on healthcare systems as a result of excessive alcohol consumption, ED staff are also exposed to violence and threats from intoxicated patients. This is something that is completely unacceptable at the best of times, and particularly so now given the current stresses and challenges we are all facing.
“ACEM has long advocated for evidence-based measures such as price, availability and access restrictions, to ensure the alcohol industry is held to account and adopts responsible retail and marketing practices to limit excessive purchases and consumption of alcohol.
“ACEM supports the advocacy efforts of partner groups such as The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Alcohol Policy Coalition, which call for better government regulation of the alcohol industry and alcoholic products, including meaningful action on aggressive marketing practices.
“At the same time we urge members of the community to reconsider their drinking habits in times of COVID-19.
“As we continue to respond to this pandemic, it is important we all step up to our responsibilities to meet the significant ongoing challenges.”
The Driving Change project is led by Professor Peter Miller at Deakin University, with funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council. In addition to the EDs in greater Melbourne, there are participating hospitals in Geelong, Warrnambool, Sydney and Canberra. Central Queensland University, the University of New South Wales, Australian National University and Cardiff University (Wales) are also partners in the project. More details are on the Driving Change project website.
ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards. www.acem.org.au