Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Intoxicated patients an increasing problem for Emergency Departments

Eye Test

Friday 10 June 2011 9:18am

Research by the University of Otago, Wellington shows that growing numbers of intoxicated people presenting at the Emergency Department of Wellington Hospital verbally and physically abuse staff on a regular basis, and have a negative impact on other patients.

The researchers say that similar results would probably be experienced in other EDs across the country. The study has just been published in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

“We looked at how intoxicated patients affect staff and other patients and found that these people were having a significant negative impact on the workload and safety of staff in the ED,” says Dr Fiona Imlach Gunasekara from the Department of Public Health.

“These impacts ranged from verbal abuse to physical assault, with nurses and ambulance officers being particularly affected. They’re very common events, which many of these frontline staff appear to endure stoically as part of the job.”

The study surveyed 47 ED staff by questionnaire and face to face interviews. It found that verbal and or physical assault often happened weekly or monthly.

Nearly all staff members say that intoxicated patients increase ED workloads, increase overall waiting times, and increase the triage scores of affected patients. In some cases intoxicated patients decreased quality of care and created negative emotions in staff.

“It appears that the ED workload is increased by intoxicated and difficult presentations on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Staff say big rugby matches and concerts are also a problem,” says Dr Imlach Gunasekara.

“The other key factor is that intoxicated patients often have a negative impact on other patients and most staff. They can have an intimidating effect which does nothing for the experience of injured sober people waiting in ED, and can also delay their treatment.”

During face to face interviews quoted in the study, many ED staff were very critical of the current drinking culture in New Zealand, and particularly how it affects young people.

Generally speaking they supported reforms to the alcohol laws put forward by the Law Commission to reduce social harm from alcohol, such as pricing changes and raising the purchase age.

For further information, contact

Dr Fiona Imlach Gunasekara
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel +64 4 385 5541 ext 4619

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

Electronic addresses (including email accounts, instant messaging services, or telephone accounts) published on this page are for the sole purpose of contact with the individuals concerned, in their capacity as officers, employees or students of the University of Otago, or their respective organisation. Publication of any such electronic address is not to be taken as consent to receive unsolicited commercial electronic messages by the address holder.