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How emergency services are affected

It is becoming increasing clear that alcohol places a significant burden on the emergency services. Not only on the servicepeople’s health and wellbeing, but on the services’ resources.

An IAS survey of front line staff confirms the magnitude of the problem: alcohol takes up as much as half of their time. The issue is particularly acute for the police, for whom 53% of their workload, on average, is alcohol-related – up to 80% of weekend arrests are alcohol-related.[1]

The cost?

Research has shown that the police and justice system spend £1.7bn every year responding to alcohol-related crime.[2]

The harm

  • Three-quarters of police respondents, and half of ambulance respondents, had been injured in alcohol-related incidents[3]
  • Between a third and a half of all servicepeople had suffered sexual harassment or abuse at the hands of intoxicated members of the public[4]
  • 78% of police, 65% of ambulance staff, and 35% of Emergency Department Consultants feel at risk of drunken assaults.[5]

What can be done?

It was clear from survey respondents that there was a desire for policy action, although there was discussion over how best to reform current practices. Suggestions included:[6]

  • Alcohol Treatment Centres
  • Delivery of Identification and Brief Advice (IBA)
  • A lower drink drive limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland, Northern Ireland and the rest of Europe.
  • Improving information sharing between emergency departments, police services and local authorities
  • More assertive use of licensing powers by local authorities
  • Reducing the affordability of alcohol.

There was support from the police for stronger control and regulation, particularly on licensing and alcohol prices. Many called for a return to earlier closing times for pubs, bars and nightclubs – the huge strain that later opening hours have created for police officers was apparent. They were also very supportive of levies on licensed premises to fund police activity – 89% were in favour[7] – and were keen that this should not be focused solely on pubs and bars, but that supermarkets and off licenses should be targeted as well. Such schemes have been implemented in some locations, with varying success – Cheltenham for example cancelled their scheme after it only raised a portion of the projected funds,[8] whilst Newcastle did meet the projected revenue from the scheme.[9]


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[1] Stoddart J (2011)., ‘Alcohol’s impact on policing’, Balance – The North East Alcohol Office <>

[2] Leontaridi R (2003)., ‘Alcohol misuse: how much does it cost?’, London: United Kingdom Cabinet Office, p. 59

[3] The Institute of Alcohol Studies (October 2015) Alcohol's impact on emergency services, p. 4


[4] Ibid, p. 4

[5] Ibid, p. 4

[6] Ibid, p. 7

[7] Ibid, pp.18–20

[8] The Publican’s Morning Advertiser (February 2016), ‘Cheltenham late-night levy to be scrapped after scheme flops’ <>

[9] The Publican’s Morning Advertiser (May 2015), ‘Newcastle councils raises £300k from late night levy’ <>