Majority of emergency service staff suffer alcohol fuelled abuse

Majority of emergency service staff suffer alcohol fuelled abuse

A new report from the Institute of Alcohol Studies, Alcohol’s Impact on Emergency Services, reveals the full extent of the toll alcohol takes on emergency services in England.

The report presents an extensive survey of police officers, ambulance and paramedic staff, accident and emergency department consultants and fire officers. It outlines both the financial burden on the emergency services and the human cost to frontline staff. The report also recommends a set of evidence-based policy measures to address this issue.

Survey findings include:

  • Violence against emergency services is ubiquitous, with 76% of police, and 50% of ambulance staff having been injured on the job as a result of drunken violence
  • Between a third and a half of emergency service staff have suffered sexual harassment or assault in the line of duty
  • Alcohol takes up as much as half of emergency service time
  • Emergency services are increasingly stretched, with over 90% of police and ambulance staff reporting they have performed the role of another blue light service in dealing with alcohol-related incidents
  • Over half of emergency service staff feel inadequately trained to deal with alcohol-related incidents

Institute of Alcohol Studies Director Katherine Brown said:

“Our report shows how alcohol takes up a disproportionate share of emergency service time, costing taxpayers billions of pounds each year. Many of these incidents are preventable, and alcohol therefore creates unnecessary problems for front line staff, increasing their workload and preventing them from dealing with other important issues. Police officers we spoke to would far rather be dealing with burglaries than Friday night drunks.

“We call on the Government to better support our emergency services and implement policies to ease this burden, such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Local Authorities could also do more by using their licensing powers more proactively, such as trying to bring forward extremely late closing times where needed.”

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine welcomed the report. President Dr Cliff Mann said:

“We as a College are extremely concerned about the harm attributable to alcohol, including the impact on the ambulance service in the UK and our already hard-pressed Emergency Departments.

“Fellows and Members of the College are confronted daily with the health impacts of alcohol use, and also experience the effects of alcohol intoxication on behaviour, including social disorder and lawlessness which sometimes spills over into the hospital environment in general, and Emergency Departments in particular. The steps laid out in this report will go a long way to tackling these challenges.”

IAS Director Katherine Brown will today present the report’s findings in an oral evidence session of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm, as part of an inquiry into the ‘Impact of Alcohol on the Emergency Services.’

The report recommends the following policies:

  • Further trialling of Alcohol Treatment Centres (special facilities designed to help people who are highly intoxicated by providing a safe place to sober up, whilst offering supervision and elements of clinical care)
  • Delivering Identification and Brief Advice (IBA) at ‘teachable moments’
  • A lower drink drive limit (50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood)
  • Better information sharing between police and emergency departments
  • More assertive use of licensing powers by local authorities
  • Reducing the affordability of alcohol, for example through a minimum unit price

Link to report:

Video Script

Alcohol puts an enormous strain on our emergency services. It is implicated in a substantial proportion of arrests [show graphic: 80% of weekend arrests are alcohol related] Emergency Department attendances, and fires.

Dealing with alcohol-related incidents makes our frontline service workers’ lives and jobs harder. A survey by the Institute of Alcohol Studies found that up to half of emergency services’ staff time is spent on alcohol-related incidents.

Emergency service staff are too often subjected to drunken abuse whilst working to protect the public. A high number of frontline workers have been injured whilst dealing with alcohol-related incidents.

“as officer numbers reduce there seems to be a propensity by drunken and drugged people to assault officer’s [sic] who are routinely single crewed now…I fear as officer’s [sic] get injured and are off work recuperating the thin blue line will break.”
Police Sergeant

Furthermore, a significant proportion of frontline service workers have suffered sexual harassment or assault from drunken members of the public. 

Our emergency services are calling for more support in dealing with alcohol. Calls to action include: more manpower, with pubs bars and supermarkets contributing to the costs of late night policing, earlier closing times, more training for frontline workers in dealing with alcohol problems, a lower drink-drive limit and raising the price of the cheapest alcohol.

“All night drinking and ubiquitous cheap available alcohol has changed the face of the UK for the worse.”
Police Sergeant

“Licencing hours in cities are too late, serving alcohol until 6am causes non stop fights
through the night in the city and then domestics in the early hours when they get home”
Police Constable

“Like most ED doctors I have seen a huge amount of alcohol-related admission[s]… I believe we need an enormous national public health campaign, and stronger minimum alcohol pricing.”
ED Consultant

Alcohol affects many people beyond the drinker. There is no one solution that will eradicate harm but evidence shows that action in these areas will make a real difference, reducing the burden on our frontline workers and creating safer communities for all.