11:55am Thursday 19th June 2014
By Ian Craig
A CALL to keep drunk people away from A&E departments has been welcomed by hospital bosses in Worcestershire.
This week’s Royal College of Nursing (RCN) annual congress in Liverpool heard concerns that treating inebriated people who were not otherwise injured or unwell in A&E was “a waste of resources”.
Some attendees said drunk people turning up at hospital had a “significant” impact on other patients and staff, as well as increasing waitingtimes, and called for an investigation into setting up special alcohol recovery centres and ‘drunk tanks’ where they could be better treated.
Celina Evans, interim deputy chief nursing officer at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust – which runs the county’s two A&E departments at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and Redditch’s Alexandra Hospital – welcomed the call.
“Some patients do attend the emergency department simply because they have had too much to drink, but it is important to remember that drinking to excess also leads to falls, fights and accidents,” she said.
“So there are pros and cons to the idea of introducing a separate scheme for patients who are intoxicated.”
She added the trust employs a number of alcohol liaison nurses who work with patients to reduce the amount of people admitted to hospital with drink-related problems.
“Our emergency departments are under increasing pressure every year,” she said.
“We are always keen to look at new approaches that could to offer support to the public, as well as keeping A&E attendances down.”
The call comes shortly after the busiest Sunday in the 12-year history of Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s accident and emergency department.
June 15 saw 241 patients arrive at the department by ambulance, car or on foot – compared with a usual figure of about 210.
A&E manager Lisa Spencer described the day as “extremely busy” but praised her colleagues for their hard work managing the flow of patients through the hospital.
But although the plans have won wide support, some said keeping patients away from A&E just because they were drunk was setting a dangerous precedent.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Dr Peter Carter said some patients may appear to be drunk but may actually be suffering from a problem such as an internal head injury, which may not be immediately apparent.
“I think you need far more than some sort of place just to deposit people when they are inebriated,” he said.
“At the point where they are picked up they need to have a proper assessment, which will include a neurological assessment. And you would find that a lot of people, although inebriated, will still need to come to A&E.”
But he said the amount of people being treated in hospital for alcohol-related issues had “undoubtedly” got worse in recent years.
“There is hardly a time when there isn’t someone who has got an alcohol-related issue in that A&E department.”
Anyone unsure if they or someone else needs to go to A&E should call NHS 111.
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