Public health experts want alcohol to be treated as a national priority after a survey of hospital emergency departments showed that as many as one in three patients were treated for alcohol-related harm.
A snapshot taken at 92 emergency departments across the country at 2am last Saturday showed one in seven patients attended as a result of the harmful use of alcohol, with some hospitals reporting one in three cases were alcohol-related.
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, which did the survey, said it meant alcohol was putting up to 400 people in casualty departments at any one time - the equivalent of the effects of a toxic spill or natural disaster.
Researchers said it provided the first national insight into the amount of alcohol presentations being treated in hospitals, particularly over the festive season.
Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton, who chairs the college's public health committee and was involved in the study, said that until now there had been only anecdotal evidence that the rates of alcohol presentations were high.
"The survey response rate from the emergency departments was a remarkable 84 per cent, which demonstrates how keen emergency physicians and staff are to highlight the substantial number of patients they are treating due to excessive alcohol consumption," she said.
"Emergency physicians are sick and tired of dealing with the 'bloody idiots' who drink alcohol in excess.
"If you work in an ED with one in three patients affected by alcohol, it's more like a pub than a hospital, and this is intolerable for staff and unfair on other patients."
The Public Health Association of Australia and the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol said the costs of alcohol harm were colossal.
NAAA co-chairman Mike Daube said Governments needed a comprehensive approach covering price, access, enforcement of liquor licensing, curbing alcohol promotion, and public education.
'With one in three patients affected by alcohol, it's more like a pub than a hospital.'"Australasian College for Emergency Medicine public health committee chair *Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton *