ALCOHOL misuse is placing an impossible burden on the region’s hospitals, according to a new report released today.

Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, has revealed in its report that the cost of alcohol-related attendances at one of the region's larger emergency departments has been conservatively estimated at £1m a year.

It also tells of the toll it places on staff in the region’s urgent care services, who find themselves dealing with the impact of alcohol misuse on a daily basis, including verbal, physical and sexual assaults.

The report includes a variety of interviews with consultants, nurses and other members of staff to assess the impact of alcohol misuse on their working lives.

In the region’s larger emergency departments it is common to treat 30 to 40 patients a day who have been drinking, placing a huge strain on department resources and staff.

They are also facing the constant threat of physical assault and verbal abuse.

The Northern Echo:

Dr Kate Lambert, pictured above, a senior ED consultant at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: “There is unprecedented demand for our services and our staff are working under massive pressure, occasionally with the threat of physical assault and frequently on the end of verbal abuse from intoxicated patients.

“Particularly around times like the festive season and New Year, we experience some of our busiest days, when we’re seeing cases of unexpected drunkenness resulting in accidents, fights or other problems related to drinking too much.

“I’d say with the verbal aggression we receive, we’re just used to dealing with it and we manage it as we would with any other patient.

“We have had staff spat at and injured by intoxicated patients and it’s particularly distressing for the whole department.

"I think it’s very important to highlight the issues we’re facing on a daily basis and we’re pleased to be working in partnership with Balance to do just that.”

Alcohol-related attendances account for 72 per cent of cases on Fridays and Saturdays from 2am to 3am at Newcastle’s RVI.

Latest figures from Balance estimate that alcohol costs the NHS £2.7bn annually, with the North-East figure totalling £242m, equating to £93 per person per year in the region.

Sue Taylor, partnerships manager at Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “Probably the most shocking aspect of our report is the fact that so many urgent care staff expect to experience physical and verbal abuse as a result of alcohol, as part of their working lives.

“It’s clear that alcohol is placing a huge burden on urgent care staff, who are committed to helping us when we need them the most.

"At a time when the NHS is already under massive pressure, alcohol is placing an unnecessary and unsustainable weight on time and resources.”

She said the report reinforced calls for the issue to be brought under control by making alcohol less affordable and available and tax to be increased on the most harmful alcohol products.