The true cost of alcohol-related incidents to emergency care

Emergency Departments are having to cope with a huge influx of alcohol-related problems, rising to 70% of incidents at the weekend.

This burden is costing more than £1million a year for just one hospital, a Newcastle study has found.

Published today in the Emergency Medicine Journal (EMJ), the study was conducted by staff within the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University as part of the Newcastle Academic Health Partners.

The research team included Fuse Senior Investigators Professors Eileen Kaner and Luke Vale, and Centre associates Dr Kathryn Parkinson and Professor Dorothy Newbury-Birch.

Uniquely the team looked at admittance to the emergency department over the course of a whole year providing a wider view over the entire week and eliminating seasonal changes.

Attendance rates ranged widely over weekdays from 4% to 60% rising to 70% at the weekend. Each person cost on average £249 – and if they had to be admitted to a ward it rose to £851.

They found that those most likely to come in were male, young and seen in the early hours of the morning and at the weekend.

A major and avoidable burden

Jim Connolly is a Consultant in Emergency Medicine and Head of Department at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, part of Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

He said: “Attending the hospital for an alcohol-related reason is a major and avoidable burden on a lot of emergency departments - we need to find a way to alleviate the situation.

"Emergency departments should not be expected to be a “baby-sitting service” for those who have drunk too much alcohol - this at certain times, especially the weekends as shown by this study, stands a serious risk of reducing the emergency care community’s ability to look after seriously ill and injured people.

“We need to increase our input and education to those who use the service about the burden not just on emergency services but also the effects on their own health.

"We need to offer better intervention training to all frontline staff dealing with patients with alcohol-related injuries, as well as look at alternative care processes to reduce this increasing burden of alcohol related problems on the emergency care system.”

A wake-up call to the dangers

Previous work by the Newcastle University researchers has found that a brief intervention such as a patient information leaflet or five minutes of structured advice has been found to work in reducing harmful or hazardous drinking.

Dr Kathryn Parkinson, Senior Research Associate at Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society, researches the effects and impacts of hazardous and harmful drinking.

She said: “We know that a five minute intervention can work on people who have had too much to drink as it is a wake-up call.

“If we were able to put in trained staff at the pressure points in emergency care including overnight, then we could relieve the situation by carrying out interventions to highlight to people the risks of drinking. This would prevent it re-occurring and soon prove cost effective.

”The estimated cost to the NHS of alcohol misuse is £3.5 billion every year in England, which equates to £120 for every taxpayer.

In 2010, alcohol use accounted for around 2.7 million deaths and accounted for between 1.3 and 3.3% of health costs globally.


Prevalence of alcohol-related attendance at an inner-city emergency department and its impact: a dual prospective and retrospective cohort study.

Kathryn Parkinson, Dorothy Newbury-Birch, Angela Phillipson, Paul Hindmarch, Eileen Kaner, Elaine Stamp, Luke Vale, John Wright, Jim Connolly.

Emergency Medicine Journal. Doi: 10.1136/emermed-2014-204581

Last modified: Fri, 05 Feb 2016 15:48:36 GMT