Shorter hours of sale for alcohol could ease the pressure on ambulances, emergency departments, hospitals and the police, suggests a study of licensing laws in Australia and the UK.

This is the key finding from a new report published today by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (UK) and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education – FARE (Australia).

Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere? compares and assesses alcohol licensing policies in Australia and the UK and offers a series of recommendations on how to reduce and prevent alcohol-related harm based on shared learnings. This is the first comparative study of alcohol availability policies in these two countries, which share similar drinking cultures.

Fourteen alcohol control policies were rated for their effectiveness in reducing harm and value for money using an ‘alcohol availability scorecard’. Australia’s ‘Last Drinks’ policy, which requires venues to restrict on-premises (pubs, bars and restaurants etc) alcohol sales after a specified time at night or in the early hours of the morning, scored highest. The lowest scoring policies were alcohol industry voluntary schemes and UK Late Night Levies.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Kypros Kypri, Professor of Public Health at University of Newcastle, Australia said: “There is strong evidence to show that earlier closing times can make a significant difference to the strain alcohol places on emergency services. In Sydney, bringing forward closing times to 3am was associated with a 25% reduction in alcohol-related presentations to the local hospital.”

The report offers 10 recommendations for reducing alcohol-related harms through existing licensing policy frameworks. These include:

  • Restricting trade hours of on-licence venues to limit the availability of alcohol in the early hours of the morning
  • Enhancing community involvement, better facilitating the engagement of local residents with licensing systems
  • Adding / prioritising public health and / or harm minimisation objectives in alcohol legislation
  • Restricting the sales of high risk products in areas of concern; and
  • Deprioritising government support for industry voluntary schemes in place of policies supported by evidence.

Co-presenter Jon Foster, Senior Research and Policy Officer at IAS, said: “Even modest reductions in bar opening times would take the pressure off hard pressed A&E departments, who would undoubtedly welcome a 25% reduction in alcohol-related admissions, as happened in Australia. Legislation should empower licensing authorities to curb excessively late opening times for clubs and bars where these are causing a problem.”

This report follows the publication of an inquiry into the Licensing Act (2003) by a cross-party committee of Lords published earlier this year, which concluded that it is “fundamentally flawed” and in need of “a major overhaul.”