Issue date: 05 July 2012
Alcohol may be involved in up to 640,000 hospital admissions and nearly 2 million visits to emergency departments in England and Wales every year, according to research published online in Emergency Medicine Journal.
The authors, Rebecca Hoskins and Jonathan Benger, base their findings on the number of patients requiring treatment at one inner-city emergency department in the South West of England, and the extrapolation of those figures. Both work in emergency care and at UWE Bristol.
Almost a thousand adults seeking emergency care at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) over a period of 4 weeks in June 2009 were invited to take part in the anonymous study.
Each week was divided into 14 periods of 12 hours, so that all relevant attendances were covered. Of those approached, 774 people were eligible and willing to take part.
An independent researcher asked each participant if they had been drinking alcohol prior to their emergency department attendance, before going on to ask about their average weekly consumption.
Treating clinicians were also asked their opinion as to whether a patient's emergency department attendance was either directly or indirectly related to alcohol, or was unrelated.
In all, around one in five (149; 19%) patients said they had drunk alcohol (anything between half a unit and 50 units) before coming to the emergency department. 14% (111) people felt their attendance was related to alcohol, 87 (11%) of whom had an injury. Of these, just over half believed they had been injured by someone else who had been drinking, while a similar proportion admitted to drinking more than the maximum recommended weekly units. Of the 111 patients who felt their attendance was related to alcohol, one in three was admitted to hospital.
Clinicians reported that around one in five (21%) patient attendances was either directly (14%) or indirectly (7%) related to alcohol. And they felt that around 8% of all attendances were attributable to alcohol-related violence.
The authors caution that the BRI experience may not be applicable elsewhere. But they conclude, “If these figures are extrapolated, the number of patients presenting with alcohol related injury [exceeds] 7000 attendances to the [BRI] annually, or nearly 2 million patients every year in England and Wales.”
Rebecca Hoskins is a lecturer in nursing at UWE Bristol and works as a consultant nurse in the Emergency Department, Bristol Royal Infirmary. Professor Jonathan Benger is a Professor of Emergency Care at UWE and also works as a consultant in emergency medicine in the Emergency Department, BRI.