As an Accident and Emergency doctor, I see at first hand the effects that our booze culture is having on our health. And it scares me; self induced illness costing the NHS a fortune, putting millions of patient’s health at risk…and taking my time away from looking after other patients. Some days I just despair. Last week was one of them.
In the same shift three teenagers were brought in before 9pm dangerously drunk – the all drank vast quantities of beer/wine/vodka/odd-colored-sugary-alcohol-pop, before going out and then collapsed at various places outside the clubs they were on route to.
Ambulances were called and they were brought to my care. One was so drunk we had to suction out the vomit from her mouth to stop her choking to death. Another girl wet herself and then proceeded to vomit on the floor and hurl abuse at the staff. The third was so unconscious we ended up having to take over their breathing and taking them for a CT scan of their head to check that they hadn’t had a head injury. Why on why does this happen so regularly?
Later on that evening there had been a punch up outside a nightclub – alcohol induced. Involved were two patients. Injuries were one facial bone fracture, one neck laceration from biting, two broken hands and a ruptured liver from being kicked in the stomach.
Between them, the patients had a total of four operations, over 10 days in hospital – four of which were in intensive care and had a total of three A&E doctors, six surgeons, four anesthetists, six intensive care doctors, seventeen nurses, twelve operating department practitioners, three physiotherapists, three pharmacists and an occupational therapist involved in their care. It becomes obvious why alcohol is so expensive for the NHS.
But it is not just your typical binge drinker that causes problems. Last week a 68 year old retired solicitor came in. His partner had called an ambulance after he fell down the stairs. He had had his usual daily alcohol; four pints of Stella and a ‘couple’ of whisky chasers not to mention a ‘few’ glasses of claret. He fractured his neck and skull and nearly died from internal bleeding. We had to put him to sleep, take him for an emergency scan and then to theatre and then to intensive care. He will survive but it is unlikely he will walk again. His care will be reassuring expensive for the tax payer.
Then there are the effects of chronic alcohol use. A 45 year old man came in as he felt so terrible – so terrible that he hadn’t been able to drink for two days – a very worrying sign. He had been drinking almost daily since he had been married. He drank a bottle of wine with his meal each night and then before bed, a glass or two of whisky. He worked as an office manager, had two children and was your typical friendly next door neighbour.
But he had given himself alcoholic hepatitis. His liver couldn’t cope any more with this level of alcohol and had gone into “shut-down”. Unless he stops drinking it won’t be long before this is a permanent state, liver cirrhosis develops and then he could become another sad statistic.
Sometimes at work, you just despair and wonder why it is happening. Of all the drugs there are, alcohol is the most dangerous – in the short term and long term. It is also the drug which causes the most problems and costs the most for the NHS.
But all that has happened in the last few years is binge drinking has been glamourised and alcohol has become easier to get and cheaper.
So what can society do? We need to de-glamourise alcohol – celebrities have a role to play as we know the influence they have. But we all need to be more responsible; teaching our children sensible limits and drinking responsibly ourselves. How many people reading think it is ok to drink a bottle of wine a night? As my patient showed it is dangerous and you need to cut down. Learn how much is safe to drink and stick to it otherwise you could end up in a similar state.
But the government needs to act. Self regulation of the drinks industry has failed. We need a co-ordinated approach, which doesn’t damage the pub trade or affect the millions of people who sensible enjoy a few pints a week. The health of our population is more important than the share price of a few drinks companies and supermarkets.
Here is my manifesto.
We need a minimum alcohol price; supermarkets should be banned from selling crazily cheap alcohol. Not only would it cut alcohol consumption, but would help pubs as people would be less inclined to drink at home.