Drunken children hospital A&E attendance prompts concern

Young drinker
Image caption Alcohol Concern Cymru warned adults against giving younger teenagers drink

Two Welsh health boards were in the top five in the UK for under-age drinkers visiting A&E units in the past year, a BBC investigation has found.

Swansea-based Abertawe Bro Morgannwg (ABM) was third with 283 attendances and Cardiff and Vale fifth with 221. The other three were all in Scotland.

The UK figures showed 6,500 underage drinkers went to A&E in 2012-13.

Alcohol Concern Cymru said the figures were "concerning" but the statistics needed to be treated cautiously.

BBC Radio 5Live made a freedom of information request to all NHS health boards or trusts in the UK asking for information on the number of under-18s attending A&E in the past five years for drink or drug related illnesses. Out of 189 health bodies, 125 responded.

Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, which serves north Wales, had 163 attendances in the past year. The other four health boards did not respond or were unable to supply the appropriate data.

Public health bodies and charities said fewer children overall were drinking but those who did may be drinking more.

Andrew Misell, director of Alcohol Concern Cymru, said the figures had to be treated with care as not all boards had replied and organisations had different ways of recording data.

"It's interesting that two relatively small cities in the UK [Swansea and Cardiff] have come up so high but I think we need to be a bit cautious before we start saying there's a bigger problem here," he told BBC News.

"We'd need to know that everyone was measuring intoxication in the same way.

'They look old enough'

"I'm sure that people in the various health boards will be looking at this with some interest and concern and I think it's probably not helpful to start pointing the finger at individual towns in Wales."

However, Mr Misell added: "It's obviously concerning that children under the legal drinking age are, by whatever means, getting hold of alcohol.

"I think there's a number of things going on here.

"There's of course teenagers who have managed to get get into an off-licence because they look old enough or the shopkeeper wasn't bothered about their age.

"It will also include children who have managed to get hold of their parents' alcohol, ranging from teenagers to small children who have got hold of it accidentally, to children who have been given it by adults.

"Unfortunately, some adults mistakenly believe that if you give your child alcohol at home, they are insulating them from the dangers of having it outside the house. There is no evidence for this."

He said the official advice was not to give alcohol to children aged 15 and under.

ABM, which serves Swansea, Bridgend, Port Talbot and surrounding areas, said in a statement: "We are not getting reports from A&E doctors that they feel the problem in our area is any worse than in other parts of the UK where they have worked.

"A&E alcohol-related attendances for under-18s in the ABM area have been on a downward trend since 2008/09 when they were 432. Last year they were 281 (229 of these were 15-17 year olds).

"However we would like to see that figure come down much further and we are working on wellbeing programmes with schools which help to educate and inform youngsters about issues around alcohol misuse.

"As part of the Healthy Schools Scheme we raise awareness of risky behaviours among young people, social norms, attitudes and knowledge in relation to alcohol.

"We also have the Swansea Healthy Nightlife action plan which reduces the ability of youngsters to purchase alcohol from bars/clubs.

The Cardiff and Vale board has also been asked to comment.

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