Alcohol policies hailed as Alice Springs Hospital ED presentations plummet – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Alcohol policies hailed as Alice Springs Hospital ED presentations plummet

By Katrina Beavan and Stewart Brash

Updated September 09, 2019 18:56:43

New data has revealed fewer people are being hospitalised, being taken into protective custody and entering sobering up shelters in Alice Springs due to alcohol, with controversial policies credited for the reduction in booze-related harm.

Key points:

  • The sharp drop in hospital presentations has been attributed to policy measures introduced by the NT Government
  • The severity of alcohol-related injuries has also fallen, the hospital says
  • The statistics show protective custody episodes in Alice Springs are down 63 per cent

Alcohol-related presentations to the Alice Springs Hospital emergency department have dropped by one-third in the last year, according to the new figures released by the NT Government.

The director of the hospital’s emergency department, Dr Stephen Gourley, said the reduction in alcohol-fuelled cases has made a critical difference to hospital operations and staff.

“It’s a massive improvement — we were seeing up to 30 people a day being intoxicated, and now it’s down to just a few,” he said.

“It’s a much more pleasant place to work, and I think it’s a much more pleasant place for other patients to be.”

Dr Gourley said the degree of alcohol related injuries being presented to the emergency department had also eased significantly.

“We used to see a lot of ladies with defensive fractures of the forearms just from fending-off attacks. That was a common fracture — not common elsewhere but common in Alice Springs,” he said.

“[It’s] very, very rare now, I haven’t seen one for months.

“There’s still a small degree of violence, it’s not down to zero by any means, but it’s a massive improvement and it’s been sustained.”

Dr Gourley, who is also the deputy chair of the National Rural Health Alliance, said it was likely Government policies, such as the presence of police auxiliary liquor inspectors (PALIs) stationed at regional bottle shops, were behind the decrease.

“Having the PALIs on the bottle shops, given that they don’t do that in Darwin and they have not seen the same improvement that we’ve seen down here, may be a key part of the solution,” he said.

“However, there’s quite a bit of interest in this at the moment, [and] we’ll be doing some research looking at all the measures and the impact that they’ve had over time.”

Data revealed following string of contentious cases

The long-awaited statistics, released by the Northern Territory Government on the weekend, follow on from a sustained drop in alcohol-related assaults and domestic violence of more than 40 per cent.

Across the NT, alcohol-related assaults are 20 per cent below the long-term average

The new figures also show that protective custody episodes in Alice Springs are down 63 per cent for the year ending June.

The figures were published as part of the NT Government’s August 2019 Alcohol Harm Minimisation Action Plan, which comes after several claims of racial discrimination were levelled against police auxiliaries in Alice Springs recently.

Last month NT Police apologised to a New South Wales woman for refusing to let her buy a six-pack of beer in Alice Springs in April.

Not long after that incident a prominent Alice Springs Aboriginal man said he was followed home by NT police, and had his car searched, before his dog was pepper-sprayed after he bought a bottle of wine.

‘One bottle shop unstaffed has an immediate impact’

Carole Taylor, chief executive of Drug and Alcohol Services Australia, the town’s only sobering up shelter, said they had seen a sustained, significant drop in cliental over the last 12 to 15 months.

“Our average at the moment is between three and four [people] a night, which is quite low compared to last year where it was between 10 and 12,” Ms Taylor said.

She said there was no question at all the reduction was due to the introduction of police auxiliary officers.

“There’s a distinct correlation between them [bottle shops] being manned and the amount of people we get in there on a nightly basis,” she said.

“One bottle shop unstaffed has an immediate impact on the amount of people we get in the shelter.”

Ms Taylor added that fewer people were coming to the shelter for protection.

“One of the things that used to happen quite regularly was that when a person, women in particular, came into the shelter for safety, her partner may well be out the front yelling and screaming for them to come out,” she said.

“It doesn’t appear to be happening a great deal anymore.”

Topics: health, health-policy, government-and-politics, healthcare-clinic, community-and-society, police, nt, alice-springs-0870

First posted September 09, 2019 17:17:09

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