Drink linked to Scottish Ambulance Service calls
Ambulance staff say alcohol is a factor in more than half of all the incidents they attend at weekends.
They have issued a plea to the public to drink responsibly so that they don't put someone else's life at risk by diverting resources.
The figure was revealed in an internal staff survey, which suggests that alcohol is contributing to a huge number of weekend call-outs.
But it is a factor in nearly half of all calls during weekday evenings too.
The presence of alcohol is not formally recorded by internal systems, so this is the best indication of how often it plays a part in 999 calls.
Ambulance service managers agree that the figures are probably a fair reflection of the pressure on the service.
"A high percentage of our calls are alcohol related - at least 50%," said paramedic Kirsteen Buchanan. "Younger people with their alcopops and 'dragon soup' and also we've got a number of regulars who are probably into their seventies.
"Quite often we're going for a call to an elderly person, and the doctor's already been to see them so you know it's a genuine reason why they need an ambulance, and you'll be on your way to them and then you'll be diverted to a 'red' call. Then you get there and it's an alcohol related call."
Although this is a particularly busy time for the ambulance service, the survey asked staff about their experiences all year round.
The pressure on the service is even greater at the moment. In the three weeks between 12 December and 1 January last year it dealt with an extra 165 incidents a day.
"As festive parties get into full flow this week we would ask people to drink responsibly and avoid becoming an additional patient for the NHS to treat," said Pauline Howie, Chief Executive, Scottish Ambulance Service. "Alcohol has a significant impact on ambulance operations across all of Scotland. It is no longer a weekend phenomenon as crews have to respond to alcohol related calls every day of the week, taking resources away from those who need us most."
She added: "There is also a wide impact on our operations as precious resources have to be taken off the road to be cleaned after an intoxicated patient has been sick, which takes time and removes an ambulance that could be available to respond to a medical emergency."
Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, Alison Douglas said: "The impact of alcohol on the Scottish Ambulance Service is completely unacceptable and unsustainable.
"Encouraging individuals to drink less is difficult when we are surrounded by cheap alcohol that is constantly promoted as an everyday product.
"Addressing the affordability of alcohol through minimum unit pricing is an effective way to protect vulnerable citizens, create safer communities and support emergency services."
Last week ambulance chiefs revealed that staff also have to deal with an increase in time-wasters. A man who was fed up waiting for a taxi, someone who'd cut their nail, and a choking dog were all examples of recent calls.
My night with the crews
By Eleanor Bradford
On Friday I spent an evening with an ambulance crew. Only one of the four calls we attended between 21:30 and 02:00 was not alcohol or drug related.
The paramedics had to patch up a middle-aged civil servant who'd fallen over after having too much to drink at an office party. They took a fast-food employee to hospital after he was attacked and punched by a drunken customer.
We spent a couple of hours dealing with a 15-year-old who had become aggressive after taking drugs. The police were also involved and accompanied us to the children's hospital. The only unavoidable emergency was an elderly lady with dementia, who had become unwell.
The relatives of those who had inflicted problems upon themselves threatened me with lawyers if their photos were published. The injured restaurant worker, and the family of the elderly lady, were grateful for the medical help and pleased we were highlighting the problem.