Frontline staff worn down by alcohol-fuelled behaviour

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Ambulance staff face daily risk of assault and abuse
Ambulance staff face daily risk of assault and abuse

Alcohol-related behaviour is having a severe impact on the ability of emergency services staff to do their jobs, according to a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Alcohol Harm. The government needs to urgently develop a ‘coordinated national strategy’ to tackle the country’s excessive alcohol intake, says The frontline battle: an inquiry into the impact of alcohol on emergency services.

Police, fire, ambulance and A&E staff face the daily risk – and ‘frequently daily reality’ – of assault and abuse, including sexual abuse, in the course of carrying out their professional duties, the document states, with one police force reporting that 90 per cent of its officers ‘expected’ to be assaulted on Friday and Saturday nights.

Alcohol-fuelled behaviour is placing intolerable pressure on services, and affecting the health, wellbeing and morale of staff, the report stresses, with services experiencing recruitment and retention problems as a result. In the North East, 86 per cent of police officers surveyed had been assaulted by people under the influence of alcohol, and more than 20 per cent had been assaulted six or more times.

The document is calling for alcohol awareness training and support to be delivered to emergency service personnel, as well as a lowering of the drink drive limit, more investment in alcohol liaison teams and more training in the use of Identification and Brief Advice (IBA) programmes. The report comes less than a week after a Public Health England (PHE) review estimated the economic burden of alcohol at up to 3 per cent of the country’s GDP.

‘It should be wholly unacceptable to hear of an A&E consultant being kicked in the face, medical staff having TVs thrown at them, or female police officers being sexually assaulted,’ said APPG chair Fiona Bruce MP. ‘And it’s not just emergency staff who suffer – as this report describes, many other people are impacted too, from taxpayers who foot the bill to patients who can’t be seen promptly, or worse, those innocent people killed in avoidable drunk driving accidents.’

‘We need the UK government to act and take steps to implement the report’s recommendations, including lowering the drink drive limit and tackling cheap and high-strength alcohol, which we know will work in reducing alcohol-related harms and ease the strain on frontline staff,’ said Alcohol Concern chief executive Joanna Simons.

Meanwhile a merger has been announced between Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, to be completed by April 2017. The chief executive of the merged charities will be Alcohol Research UK CEO Dave Roberts.  ‘Alcohol Concern is well recognised for its high-profile advocacy work to help reduce the many harms from alcohol misuse, and in particular for its excellent Dry January initiative,’ said Alcohol Research UK chair Professor Alan Maryon Davis. ‘We see the marrying of evidence-based advocacy with our primary function of fostering research into reducing alcohol harm as a powerful strategic fit.’

Report at www.alcoholconcern.org.uk