Almost 20,000 alcohol-related ambulance callouts were recorded at the height of the Covid pandemic last year, a study has indicated.
The statistic was published by University of Stirling researchers, who suggest new policy measures should be considered in order to reduce the figure.
They identified public health risks caused by increased home drinking between April and June 2020.
It’s despite night-time callouts for alcohol incidents being reduced during that period due to licensed premises being closed.
However, researchers suggest, in June last year, the proportion of alcohol-related callouts had almost returned to pre-pandemic levels.
The study found that overall, there were 18,832 alcohol-related callouts at the height of the pandemic, from April to June 2020, making up 16% of all callouts.
Professor Niamh Fitzgerald, director of the Institute for Social Marketing and Health at Stirling, led the study.
She explained that the restrictions introduced last year in response to the pandemic led to many people drinking more alcohol at home.
“During the pandemic, both in the UK and abroad, licensed premises – including bars, restaurants and nightclubs – faced significant restrictions, including closures and curfews, which helped to reduce spread of the virus,” said Professor Fitzgerald.
“However, we know that these restrictions also led to many people drinking more alcohol at home.
“By looking at data from the frontline of the NHS – the Scottish Ambulance Service – and adjusting for the fact that ambulance callouts fell during this period for other reasons, our study shows that there were disproportionately large short-term reductions in alcohol-related callouts in April and May 2020, when licensed premises were closed, compared to the previous year.
“This was a situation that paramedics described as a ‘welcome break’ from the hostile, alcohol-fuelled scenes experienced in towns and cities on weekend nights pre-pandemic.
“However, we also identified public health risks caused by increased home drinking during this period – with those night-time callouts quickly replaced by alcohol-related ambulance callouts on all days of the week, likely to be linked to home drinking.”
Professor Fitzgerald asked how a return to pre-pandemic levels of alcohol-related callouts can be avoided.
She added: “Our findings suggest that policymakers here in Scotland, but also around the UK and abroad, need to consider how to build upon the lessons learned during the pandemic.
“As the night-time economy recovers, how can we avoid a return to pre-pandemic levels of alcohol-related callouts arising from the night-time economy, but also reduce callouts and harm from home drinking?”
Dr Jim Ward, medical director at the Scottish Ambulance Service, urged members of the public to support staff by drinking in a way that avoids harm.
“We will always respond to people in need regardless of cause, location, or time,” said Ward.
“However, heavy drinking both at home and when on nights out, as well as through chronic alcohol problems, not only increases the risk of accidents but can also lead to a rise in assaults, including those against ambulance staff.
“By drinking in a way that avoids harm, the public can support our hard working staff and avoid putting unnecessary pressure on our service and A&E departments at an extremely busy time.”
Public health minister Maree Todd said the Scottish Government is continuing to seek ways to cut alcohol consumption.
“I am determined to build on the progress we’ve already made and we will consult next year on potential restrictions to alcohol advertising and promotion,” she said.
“We remain absolutely committed to ensuring the level of minimum unit price (MUP) remains effective in reducing harm.”
Todd said the Scottish Government is gathering evidence to analyse the impact MUP has had since its introduction, with a final report from Public Health Scotland due in 2023.
“It is important this work is carried out thoroughly as we must ensure any change to the level has a robust evidence base,” she said.
“When we announced we would review the level after two years, we did not know we would also need to factor in the impact of a pandemic and a changed legal landscape post-Brexit.
“Our ambulance service is currently experiencing unprecedented demand, largely because of Covid-19, but also due to a combination of increasingly complex cases, and exceptionally busy emergency departments.
“We are doing everything possible to help and improve the service, and would urge everyone to use the service responsibly and appropriately.”