Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

Drink-fuelled attacks alarm A&E

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Dr Chris Greenhall and Dr Tim Jones explain the sort of alcohol-related injuries that are on the increase

The proportion of alcohol-related assaults has almost doubled over the past decade, according to research at a hospital in south Wales.

In 1997, 47% of assaults dealt with at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport were linked to alcohol but this rose to 84% in 2008.

The figures were unveiled in a study into the effects of alcohol on facial injuries seen by its A&E department.

The proportion of more serious injuries such as broken jaws has also risen.

The research also found 93% of assault patients seen were male.

The study suggests the rises could be related to the increased availability of alcohol in recent years.

The research was carried out by oral surgeons Dr Chris Greenall and Dr Tim Jones, who both work in the hospital's maxillofacial department.

They looked at specialist referrals from casualty for facial injuries, the numbers of which were remarkably similar - 226 cases in 1997 and 227 in 2008.

But the types of injury and proportion of drink-related cases had changed in that time.

Overall, the research found there had been a 20% increase in the number of patients suffering alcohol-related facial injuries over the past decade.

Dr Tim Jones (left) and Dr Chris Greenall
It seems more and more people are drinking to a point where they are doing these sorts of things to each other
Dr Chris Greenall (pictured right)

They found the most common type of facial injury dealt with by the A&E department involved soft tissue trauma, such as cuts and lacerations, which mainly require stitches and leave patients with permanent scars.

In 1997, these kinds of injuries accounted for 90% of all facial injuries but this percentage fell to 73% by 2008.

On the other hand, hard tissue trauma involving broken bones rose with cheekbone fractures rising from 3% to 17% and the incidence of broken jaws rising from 6% to 10% over the same period.

In terms of alcohol, the proportion of broken jaws which were related to drinking rose from 69% to 81% while dental injuries, where people had their teeth knocked out, rose from just 7% to 35%.

The proportion of broken cheekbones as a result of drink remained roughly the same but the actual numbers dealt with by the department rose from six to 39 over the period of the study.

The study's other key findings showed that people's injuries are more spread out over the course of a day with larger peaks of injuries found during the early hours of the morning.

DRINK-RELATED ASSAULT CASES
Man with facial stitches
All cases involving alcohol - Up from 24% to 37%
Alcohol-related injuries in males - Up from 26% to 47%
Alcohol-related assaults - Up from 47% to 84%
Alcohol-related lacerations - Up from 22% to 26%
Alcohol-related broken jaws - Up from 69% to 81%
Alcohol-related dental injuries - Up from 7% to 35%
Alcohol-related assaults, 1997 to 2008. Source: Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport

Senior house officer Dr Jones said: "We were quite surprised by the findings as the British Crime Survey has shown a reduction in interpersonal violence over the same period as the study and we weren't really expecting an increase.

"A similar study was carried out by St Thomas' Hospital in 2007 and that supported the findings we've found here.

"Fridays and Saturdays are still fight nights. There have always been peaks between midnight and 2am but now they last until 3am and 4am in the morning.

"It's not unusual for us to start a shift at 8pm and carry on stitching people up right through the night in accident and emergency until 7am the next morning."

Clinical fellow Dr Greenall added: "We're not saying people shouldn't drink because people like to have a beer but it seems more and more people are drinking to a point where they are doing these sorts of things to each other.

"Whether it's in their nature or whether you can blame it on the beer you just can't really say.

"You can't really say it's just down to the increased availability of alcohol over the 24-hour period but these changes are set against that background.

"Although we're seeing the same number of people, we're seeing the amount of cases involving alcohol rise and more alcohol-related assaults and we're also seeing more severe assaults.

"It just shows how our A&E services are having to deal with more and more serious injuries which is putting a greater burden on already under-pressure hospital services."

The comparative study was carried out using figures collected over the same three-month period - 1 May until 31 July - in 1997 and 2008.

Dr Greenall and Dr Jones presented their findings at the annual conference of the British Association of Oral Surgeons in Edinburgh last month, where they won first prize for their research.

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