BINGE drinking is amongst the nations biggest problems. Whether that be amongst young or old people, people from the South or from the North. It’s a problem everywhere. Although some research figures suggest that binge drinking is becoming less of a problem it is estimated that the cost of treating alcohol related injuries is within the region of £3 billion per year.
Binge drinking is the term given to excessive drinking of large amounts with the intention of getting drunk on a regular basis. Something which is commonly thought to be a problem exclusive to teenagers, young adults and students due to ever-growing popularity of nightlife in cities and towns across the UK.
North West England has a higher than national average alcohol consumption rate and is home thousands of students. With 40 percent of all A&E admissions relatable to alcohol over consumption. I spoke to Medacs officer Keven Renshaw to find out the strain this issue is putting on the NHS and public services.
Kev works as a Medac and is based in Lancashire covering Preston, Blackburn, Blackpool, Burnley and Lancaster in a shift. His main job is to asses whether or not someone who has been arrested is medically fit for questioning and police interview.
‘I used to be an anesthetist nurse on a women’s health unit in a hospital. There you knew what you were expecting and almost all cases were the same and twelve hour shifts went on for what felt like forever. Whereas now you don’t have any briefing of who is going to be brought in and you can’t always be prepared for it either. There could be a group of kids brought in for binge drinking or an elderly man who’s stabbed his wife and my job is to treat everyone the same.
‘I see a lot of people in the station due to excessive amounts of drinking and what’s even more worrying is that a lot of those people are young people who don’t understand the long term damage they could be doing to their bodies. I’ve dealt with sixteen, seventeen year olds who have been arrested for being drunk and disorderly who are hysterically crying because they think being arrested means they are going to prison and they are begging me, someone who has little to no power over what happens to them not to tell their parents where they are when they struggle to tell me their own names. Girls are the worst for that and boys are worse for fighting. The girls generally just need time to sober up and calm down before they go in for questioning but with the boys it tends to be more than that. They need full medical treatment sometimes off site before they are in any fit state to be interviewed and they don’t even realize the harm they are doing to themselves by consuming so much alcohol and getting into such violent fights over from what I’ve been told is usually a spilled drink or an accidental shove on a dance floor.’
Medical evidence supports that females are far more vulnerable to the dangers of binge drinking than males due to a lower tolerance of alcohol. Despite this research also suggests that males are far more likely to binge drink to excess and be involved in alcohol related violence.
Kev went on to explain his typical night shifts and the encounters he has with highly intoxicated youths; ‘‘Through the weeknights we don’t see as much of this but come Friday and Saturday night the police cells are full of young intoxicated people waiting to be seen. Its much more of an issue than people realize. Its most worrying perhaps not for these young people themselves but their parents who are oblivious to the states their children are getting themselves into.
‘A typical Saturday shift will start off quietly, 7pm on a Saturday its what you would expect not much happening. I tend to start my shift in Preston but I’m on call for all other four sites so as soon as I’m needed elsewhere I’m in the car and on the move. If there is football on then you can almost guarantee we’ll have a few fighters brought in and I will have to stitch them up and sort them out before they’re questioned but its generally Blackpool first.’
Blackpool is a popular hen and stag do destination in North West England and attracts people from all over the UK over the weekends. Its cheap and cheerful appearance as well as many bars and clubs is attractive to not only these parties but also young people from the region.
‘Blackpool is always the busiest, closely followed by Preston. If I’m not in Blackpool by 9pm then something is seriously wrong. People tend to get either extremely violent or extremely nervous when they’re in with me. Like I have any power to do anything. Sometimes they’re abusive and derogatory towards the police and aim their anger at me not realizing that my job is to ensure their safety and health is in tact. The worst thing that’s happened with regards to this topic was when I was on call in Blackpool on a bank holiday Sunday night I was alone in a consultation room with two young lads, no older than 20 and they had me up against the wall, I was only running tests on them to see their alcohol levels but they were adamant that it was my fault they were in there.
‘People who don’t experience this first hand don’t really understand it and don’t really appreciate how much of an issue it is and what strain is being put on the health and crime services every week. If I had to pin point what I thought the reason for the rise in binge drinking in the North West was I would probably say boredom. There’s nothing really much for these kids to be doing other than going out on the weekend and drinking with their friends in town. I know because I used to be one of them and nothing much has changed. It’s also very cheap and accessible to them. Don’t get me wrong I see people coming in after drug use all the time but alcohol is far cheaper and more readily available to this generation and it causes them a lot of problems. Not to mention the problems it causes myself and the team.
‘When these young people are intoxicated to the levels which they are they don’t understand what they are doing and what they are saying, some find it funny and some don’t realize the consequences of their actions. On a typical night I will experience maybe 15 to 20 young people in these states and that’s just me. There is a definite problem with excessive binge drinking around here that doesn’t seem to ever stop. Whether it causes the person in custody to be violent, abusive or just rude I don’t think there is any doubt that more needs to be done to stop this from happening so often.’
Kev suggested that it could be time for club owners and workers to take some responsibility and limit how much alcohol is served to individuals. He explained, ‘It would be difficult for club owners and their staff to monitor intake but our resources are being stretched to deal with this which could in most cases be avoided with just drinking a little less or going home just a little earlier. In my mind something definitely needs to be done. Its not just us at the police stations that are being stretched due to this reoccurring issue but A&E departments across Lancashire are being over subscribed to as a result of excessive drinking as well with their peak being at weekends.’
It is believed that up to 30 percent of all accidents in the UK are related to alcohol intake whether that be an accident caused by excessive consumption of alcohol or the effects of an accident are worsened by intoxication, either way there is no disguising the cost and time strain being put on public services due to this on-going issue.
Nightlife in Lancashire generates high levels of income and boosts the local economy as a result of this, so it can be questioned whether or not the rise in nightlife culture can have a positive effect in some cases. Preston club owner, Andy Mac explains ‘MAC’s is my business its how I earn a living and at the end of the day it’s a money making thing for us. Yeah its bad seeing these young kids get themselves into states especially young girls making themselves vulnerable but it is what it is. I charge them to get in and charge them for drinks I cant be responsible for what happens to them when they’re in my club. I can’t be counting how many double vodka’s each 18-year-old girl is drinking on a Saturday night out with her friends. It’s just not possible. I have a strong security team that will take control of any situation that they consider to be getting out of hand. Whether that be a fight or someone who had more than enough. But I can’t tell my staff to stop serving them because they’ll just go elsewhere. It’s not like there isn’t any options.
‘I see maybe 300 to 400 people in MACs doors on your average Saturday night I can’t babysit them all and neither can my staff. That’s not what we are here for. We’re here to give the people of Preston a good night out and make money at the end of the day. People need to know their own limits and control themselves, be responsible for themselves, that can’t be my worry. We’ve all been in a state when we’ve had a few too many don’t get me wrong but when you cant stand up its probably time to go home. Maybe these kids need to be getting a better education on what drinking too much can do to them and be learning how to recognize when they’ve had enough and how to sober themselves up. But saying the responsibility and blame for binge drinking lies with club owners and workers is the same as say obesity caused by McDonalds workers. It’s a bit ridiculous.’
He also explained; ‘I think maybe these kids are exposed to it all early aren’t they. It’s all presented as very glamorous isn’t it going out on the weekend with your friends getting ready and drinking before your taxi arrives. What I wouldn’t say is that its worse round here than it is anywhere else in the country. They all have big clubs some much bigger than the ones here in Preston. It’s a university city isn’t it so the nightlife is going to be good. I wouldn’t really agree and say it was a binge drinking problem we have here it just young ones getting a bit carried away. That’s definitely not what MAC’s is we don’t support it. But at the same time these things aren’t our responsibility I’m trying to run a business.’
Although these are two very differing opinions on the consumption of alcohol it is clear that it is affecting everyone in the North West in different ways and more needs to be done to help minimise the negative strain being placed on the police and the NHS.