Excess drinking is one of the most common reasons for ambulance calls in Scotland, with an average of 60 calls being made each day. Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives under freedom of information laws show that paramedics treated 12,000 people between April and September 2015 who were drunk.
According to the recent Scottish Ambulance Service survey done in partnership with Alcohol Focus Scotland, more than half the calls made to the Scottish Ambulance Service systems were because of alcohol abuse, with Scotland's largest health board — NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde — recording the highest number of alcohol-related 999 call-outs in the six-month period at 3,849. It was followed by NHS Lothian with 1,935, and NHS Lanarkshire with 1,470.
Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the statistics highlight how "deep-rooted and complex" the problem of alcohol is in the Scottish society. "And not only is it harming those who are over consuming but it is diverting scarce resources away from those whose need was not so avoidable," he said.
According to the survey, a majority of the ambulance staff said they were assaulted when responding to incidents involving alcohol. More than 608 staff responded, of which two thirds of them (62%) said they had been physically assaulted by members of the public who have had too much drink. Three quarters (76%) experienced verbal abuse.
Staff said more than half the call-outs they deal with at weekends are alcohol related. During weekdays, one in six incidents (17%) involve alcohol, rising to almost half (42%) on weekday nights.
Pauline Howie, the chief executive of Scottish Ambulance Service, said: "The survey reveals the burden that alcohol puts on ambulance staff across the country. They are highly trained emergency clinicians and are frustrated that so much of their time is spent dealing with patients who are simply intoxicated. On top of that they have to deal with the violence and aggression that goes so often with alcohol misuse."
Alcohol abuse has become a serious problem in Scotland, which has seen a steady rise in the number of cases related to excessive drinking. In 2014, emergency ambulances responded to almost 750,000 emergency incidents and on a typical weekend they attend over 3,600 call-outs.
Alison Douglas, the chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, opined: "The impact of alcohol on the Scottish Ambulance Service is completely unacceptable and unsustainable. Christmas and New Year is a particularly busy time for call-outs but mopping up the mess caused by excessive drinking is something that ambulance crews do day in, day out."
Pointing out that the country's low-priced alcohol fuel the situation, she added: "Encouraging individuals to drink less is difficult when we are surrounded by cheap alcohol that is constantly promoted as an everyday product. Addressing the affordability of alcohol through minimum unit pricing is an effective way to protect vulnerable citizens, create safer communities and support emergency services."
A BioMed Central Public Health report published in January 2015 showed that Scotland had the highest rate of alcohol-related mortality in the UK. Elucidating the Scottish government's efforts to control the rise in excessive consumption, Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said: "The Scottish government has taken a number of steps to tackle alcohol-related harm, including banning multi-buy discounts and irresponsible promotions, introducing alcohol display areas in shops and increasing access to treatment for problem drinkers."