18 Jun 2021

Alcohol-related emergency department visits increased in 2020 - data

6:22 pm on 18 June 2021

Plenty of New Zealanders turned to the bottle to get through the ups and downs of last year's Covid-19 rollercoaster, documents show.

Health professionals have been warning the health system is desperately stretched.

Photo: 123rf

New data provided to Checkpoint shows ambulance staff showed up at more than 16,000 alcohol-related incidents in 2019.

In 2020, it shot up 37 percent, with paramedics heading out to more than 22,000 alcohol-fueled episodes.

St Johns said it had enough with staff often finding themselves on the receiving end of alcohol-fueled bashings.

"Many of our ambulance officers have been assaulted because of this," Canterbury territory manager Ian Rex said.

"On a Friday and Saturday night, our crews actually know what they're going to be facing, and they prepare for that, and it's becoming the norm."

The data obtained by Checkpoint was originally compiled for the Helen Clark foundation's research into the cost of alcohol consumption.

It revealed the extent of New Zealand problem drinking in 2020, the year of the one national six-week lockdown, plus a couple more for Auckland.

The data for Counties Manukau showed a 51 percent increase in the number of intoxicated, poisoned, or injured patients ambulance staff took to the emergency room.

In 2019, 1602 patients were taken to hospital. For 2020, that jumped to 2427.

"And this can be from falls, it can be from fractures, it can even be some small lacerations, or even the real big stuff where they get knocked out and actually have to be resuscitated," Rex said.

Canterbury saw the highest number of patients being transported to hospital for alcohol-related incidents in consecutive years.

In 2019, the number was 2695, increasing to 2894 in 2020.

Rounding out the top three, along with Canterbury and Counties Manukau, is Auckland, where trips to hospital jumped 41 percent from 1844 in 2019 to 2616 in 2020.

Most St John call outs are to the home - something Rex said was becoming more common.

"The household has become so used to having alcohol that when situations do get out of control, it becomes sort of norm," he said.

"And I think society in itself is just accepting that along with this comes aggression and sometimes even harm."

Lawyer and Communities Against Alcohol Harm secretary Grant Hewison spends much of his time helping communities prevent alcohol-related harm.

He said the 51 percent rise in alcohol-related trips to hospital for Counties Manukau was concerning.

"This is an alarming trend," he said.

"A 50 percent increase in one year. That is alarming."

There was a liquor store in almost every neighbourhood in Counties Manukau, he said.

"The easy and simple solution is to have a Local Alcohol Policy that just puts a cap or a sinking lid on liquor stores in South Auckland," he said.

"Frankly, we do not need any more and we need far less."

Hewison could not say why alcohol-related ED trips had skyrocketed but believed there could be a link to online services popularised during Covid-19 lockdowns.

"And I think these statistics may be linked to that quite significant surge as we saw it of online sales, and they're almost unregulated," he said.

As for who is keeping St John busy with alcohol-related calls, males aged between 20 and 29 remained top in both 2019 and 2020.

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