U.K.: Police call for end to 24-hour licensing over alcohol-related violence
Source: The Guardian
25 October 2015
Police officers have urged ministers to call time on 24-hour licensing, after three-quarters of police officers and 50% of ambulance staff told a survey they had been injured while handling drink-related violence.
Respondents to the survey by the Institute of Alcohol Studies said there was a culture of fear among emergency service workers about being attacked when dealing with alcohol-related incidents. Just more than half of the ambulance staff said drunken patients had sexually harassed or assaulted them.
The study, which surveyed nearly 5,000 police officers, ambulance staff, NHS medics and firefighters, found that alcohol-related incidents place extra strain on already under-pressure emergency services.
Police officers also said that 53% of their time was spent dealing with drink-related crime, and ambulance staff said 37% of their time was taken up tackling problems arising from alcohol.
The majority (68%) of police officers surveyed blamed the introduction of 24-hour licensing in 2005 for alcohol-related crime, and many called for a return to the traditional closing times of 11pm for pubs and 2-3am for clubs.
Bars, clubs, pubs and supermarkets in England and Wales are currently allowed to apply for later licences under the 2003 legislation that paved the way for 24-hour licensing.
The move had changed policing forever, a sergeant told the survey. The majority of police time was now spent “dealing with the fallout from the night time economy,” he said. “No longer are we able to patrol residential areas to catch burglars etc.”
Katherine Brown, the director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: “Our report shows how alcohol takes up a disproportionate share of emergency service time, costing taxpayers billions of pounds each year.
“Many of these incidents are preventable, and alcohol therefore creates unnecessary problems for front line staff, increasing their workload and preventing them from dealing with other important issues.”
The survey found that alcohol-fuelled violence against emergency service workers was “ubiquitous”. Between a third and a half of all respondents said drunken people had sexual harassed or abused them, with the figure rising to 52% among the 398 ambulance staff surveyed.
It also revealed a “culture of fear” among frontline staff, with 78% of police officers and 65% of ambulance staff saying they felt at risk of drunken assaults. Ninety-six percent of ambulance staff said drunken patients had threatened or verbally abused them while on duty.
One police sergeant told the survey: “As officer numbers reduce there seems to be a propensity by drunken and drugged people to assault officers who are routinely single-crewed now … I fear as officers get injured or are off work recuperating the thin blue line will break.”
Brown said: “Police officers we spoke to would far rather be dealing with burglaries than Friday night drunks. We call on the government to better support our emergency services and implement policies to ease this burden, such as minimum unit pricing for alcohol.”
She said local authorities needed to use their licensing powers to bring forward closing times at troublesome bars and pubs. The institute also recommended a more widespread trial of alcohol treatment centres, mobile facilities dubbed “drunk tanks” that help to relieve pressure on emergency services.
The study found surprisingly broad support among ambulance and A&E staff for charging drunk people if they require emergency treatment solely because they are intoxicated.
The proposal was backed by 76% of ambulance staff and 54% of A&E doctors, but strongly opposed by 28% of emergency doctors who described it as “the first step in a slippery slope towards the end of the NHS”.
One unnamed consultant told the survey he had seen a huge number of drink-related admissions, but added: “I feel strongly that charging people for alcohol-related admission would cause severe cases to be missed through non-presentation, and would also represent a betrayal of the fundamental free-at-the-point-of-entry nature of the NHS. I believed we need an enormous national public health campaign and stronger minimum alcohol pricing.”
Dr Cliff Mann, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said he was extremely concerned about the damaging impact of alcohol on hard-pressed emergency departments.
“Fellows and members of the college are confronted daily with the health impacts of alcohol use, and also experience the effects of alcohol intoxication on behaviour, including social disorder and lawlessness which sometimes spills over into the hospital environment in general, and emergency departments in particular,” he said.
“The steps laid out in this report will go a long way to tackling these challenges.”