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The Frontline Battle: An Inquiry into the Impact of Alcohol on Emergency Services by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm

The UK’s relationship with alcohol is not without consequence.

Excessive drinking places an enormous burden on our emergency services, both at an organisational and individual level. Calculating the financial impact of responding to alcohol-related emergencies is important - we need to better understand the full economic cost, especially in these difficult times. However we must not forget the very human impact as well on those public-spirited people who man our emergency services.

This Inquiry was shocked to hear the way in which police, fire, ambulance, and accident and emergency personnel face the daily risk – and frequently daily reality – of being assaulted and abused, including sexually, in the course of carrying out their professional duties.

Many submissions by the police to our Inquiry reflected an expectation that officers will be assaulted when dealing with intoxicated individuals. According to one police force, their staff survey found ‘90 per cent of police officers expect to be assaulted on a Friday and Saturday night when they police during the night time economy’i, and ‘there is one thing that is specific to female officers and that is sexual assault. 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’.

As this Report shows 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 is impacting on their ability to serve the public, on their morale, health and wellbeing, and on recruitment and retention. Another submission to our Inquiry detailed ‘As well as staff, the patients themselves are often at increased risk of harm. The other patients who have not been drinking are at increased risk because of the delays in being seen. They also have to be witnesses to an alarming environment that often appears aggressive and chaotic’.

We also heard of emergency department staff suggest that had become ‘almost desensitised to the impact of alcohol on the functioning of our unit because at certain times of the day it is the norm to be dealing with intoxicated people’iv, and a Consultant in emergency medicine told us of how he was ‘kicked in the face by a drunk’v.
This should be considered wholly unacceptable and this Report makes a series of Recommendations to address these issues which merit wide attention – not least from those individuals contributing to such pressures. As well as specific steps which government and other organisations can pledge to take, what is needed is nothing less than serious public cultural change in what is considered acceptable behaviour towards those who serve so selflessly and faithfully in our emergency services in this country today.

We all have our part to play in this, as would a Government-led National Strategy to tackle alcohol-related harm and excessive drinking, as this report recommends.