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Monday, 2 July, 2001, 23:32 GMT 00:32 UK
Drink linked to hospital visits
One in four patients had been drinking before going to A&E
One in four patients going to accident and emergency have been drinking, according to a study by Scottish doctors.

The youngest of these was found to be just 10 years old.

Alcohol was implicated in almost all cases of self harm, almost half of collapses, half of assaults and half of admissions to hospital.

The doctors from the accident and emergency department at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, said that although their study had been carried out in the Highlands, where excess drinking was a particular problem, that it tallied with other research around the UK.

There is compelling evidence that minimal intervention services for alcohol problems in general hospitals can produce major savings in health care costs

Doctors from Inverness

And they suggested it might be an idea to use A&E departments to site detection and intervention services geared towards minimising alcohol related harm.

They said: "Previous work has tended to focus on identifying problem drinkers, who are a minority among A&E attenders.

"This study suggests that one should focus equally on the much larger number of light and moderate drinkers whose drinking patterns may increase the risk of injury and illness.

"Furthermore, there is compelling evidence that minimal intervention services for alcohol problems in general hospitals can produce major savings in health care costs."

The doctors quizzed 638 new patients at their A&E department and found 122 out of the 544 who gave saliva samples had been drinking.

A further 18 who were drunk refused a test and another 14 were too drunk to provide one.

They found that 13% of those who had been drinking had the legal limit of alcohol in their system, but 5% had twice the legal limit and a further 5% had well over twice this amount.

Seven of those who tested positive were aged between 10 to 17. But they found that the worst offenders were the 41 to 60 age group.

The levels were at their highest over the weekends.

Drink levels

Men outnumbered the women by almost two to one.

However, both sexes recorded similar alcohol concentrations.

This suggests that women are now drinking more and that they tend to suffer alcohol related problems at lower levels of intake than men.

Mr John Ryan, spokesman for the British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine and an A&E consultant at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, told BBC News Online he was not surprised by the findings.

He said: "I would be unemployed if it was not for alcohol.

"Alcohol is the bread and butter of the work in my A&E department."

Mr Ryan said the only solution would be a multi-disciplinary approach, tackling not just the health problems associated with alcohol, but also the social difficulties that fuelled abuse.

A spokesman for Alcohol Concern said the study confirmed what had long been suspected.

"It does not come as any surprise and it confirms what people have been saying anecdotally.

"We had hoped that a change in the licensing laws would do something about this if it was properly monitored as it might cut back on the numbers of people who were binge drinking."

Alcohol abuse is associated with a wide range of medical conditions including heart disease, weak bones, epilepsy, anaemia and liver disease.

The study is published in the British Medical Journal's speciality journal Emergency Medicine.

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See also:

15 Apr 01 | Health
Why alcohol affects women more
01 Feb 01 | Health
6bn bill for alcohol abuse
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