One in six Scottish ambulance callouts alcohol related

One in six ambulance callouts in Scotland is alcohol-related, according to research by the University of Glasgow, rising to one in four during weekend evenings.

There is a high burden of alcohol on ambulance callouts in Scotland

Researchers used data from the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) to build an algorithm to search paramedics’ notes for references to alcohol, and found that almost 87,000 callouts in 2019 were alcohol related, at a cost to the service of more than £31m. 

Although the impact of alcohol on the Scottish Ambulance Service was known to be high, the 2019 rate of more than 230 alcohol-related callouts per day is three times greater than was previously estimated. Age was found to be a significant factor, with alcohol related to more than a quarter of callouts for under-40s but less than 7 per cent for those aged 70 and above. Twenty per cent of all callouts to the most deprived areas were found to be alcohol related, twice the rate for the least deprived areas. 

The algorithm was found to be 99 per cent accurate when compared to the judgement of professionals reviewing the same patient records, and means that SAS will now be able to routinely monitor alcohol-related callouts, the researchers say. The study, however, did not identify whether people had been drinking at home or in licenced premises. Recent research found that Scottish alcohol consumption fell to its lowest level ever in 2020 – the year after the period covered by the SAS study – driven by price increases in off-trade premises post-MUP and the closure of pubs and restaurants during lockdown periods . The SAS research, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, was co-authored by colleagues at the University of Stirling, University of Sheffield and SAS. 

‘We have shown that there is a high burden of alcohol on ambulance callouts in Scotland,’ said professor of medical statistics at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, Jim Lewsey. ‘This is particularly true at weekends, for callouts involving younger people and for callouts to addresses in areas with high levels of socio-economic deprivation. These data can be used to monitor trends over time and inform alcohol policy decision making both at local and national levels. Further, our methodological approach can be applied to other contexts for determining the burden of other factors to the ambulance service.’

Niamh Fitzgerald, professor of alcohol policy at the University of Stirling.
Niamh Fitzgerald, professor of alcohol policy at the University of Stirling.

‘As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we all want to protect NHS services for when they are most needed,’ added professor of alcohol policy at the University of Stirling, Niamh Fitzgerald. ‘It is timely therefore to consider whether it is acceptable that over 230 ambulance callouts every day are linked to alcohol when we have policy solutions that can reduce this burden. We are also conducting further research to understand what types of callouts and drinking locations give rise to these figures and how they are experienced by paramedics.’


Estimating the burden of alcohol on ambulance callouts through development and validation of an algorithm using electronic patient records here

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