Reducing the alcohol burden

According to a new survey, almost half of paramedics in the North East of England have been subjected to alcohol-fuelled physical assaults while on duty (North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (NEAS) and Balance, 2015). The survey of more than 350 paramedics details the impact of alcohol misuse on the region’s paramedics, and also revealed more than two in five NEAS paramedics have at some point been sexually assaulted/harassed while on duty. Additionally, nine out of ten paramedics agreed that dealing with alcohol-related callouts places an unnecessary burden on their time and resources; and three in five paramedics believed they shouldn’t have to deal with the consequences of excessive consumption of alcohol. A quarter of paramedics stated that at least 50% of their workload on weekday night times is alcohol related, while two thirds of paramedics stated that alcohol-related incidences account for at least 50% of their workload during weekend shifts.

Unfortunately this survey does not represent an isolated issue affecting a single region in the UK. The burden of alcohol is a global issue, whether that be the 3.3 million deaths every year that are attributable to harmful use of alcohol, or the causal relationship that can be seen between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioural disorders, other non-communicable conditions as well as injuries (World Health Organization, 2015). Within the UK, the total annual cost to society of alcohol-related harm is estimated to be £21 billion, with the NHS incurring £3.5 billion a year in costs related to alcohol (Public Health England, 2014). Few other health harms have such high overall costs when the impact on productivity and crime are included, and so it is imperative that more measures are taken to tackle this problem.

As emphasised in the NEAS and Balance report, alcohol should be less affordable, less available and less widely promoted if the overall burden of alcohol on ambulance services is to be reduced. The Government needs to support a range of targeted, evidence-based measures such as a minimum unit price, which has been shown to save lives, reduce hospital admissions and lessen the financial burden alcohol places on frontline services. After all, ambulance staff have a right to work in a safe environment, free from workplace violence.

Currently, the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) is conducting research into the impact alcohol has on emergency services in England (IAS, 2015). The survey has been designed for frontline ambulance staff and developed with the help of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives. Research into workplace violence against emergency medical services is still in its infancy, so I would encourage all those who have not completed the survey to do so.


Institute of Alcohol Studies (2015) Ambulance Survey. (accessed 28 August 2015)

North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, Balance (2015) Paying the price: North East Ambulance Service paramedic survey 2015—a summary. (accessed 27 August 2015)

Public Health England (2014) Alcohol treatment in England 2013–14. The Stationery Office, London

World Health Organization (2015) Alcohol Fact Sheet. WHO, Geneva. (accessed 28 August 2015)