The UK's relationship with alcohol is not without consequence. Excessive drinking places an enormous burden on our emergency services - including the police, fire, ambulance and accident and emergency - with the wider financial impact of responding to alcohol-related emergencies alongside the very human effect on the people who work in these critical areas. This is especially pertinent at a time such as this, as the Christmas season approaches.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm I chair today publishes a Report entitled "The Frontline Battle. An Inquiry into the Impact of Alcohol on Emergency Services". The Report powerfully highlights the startling fact that it is often someone other than those who have been under the influence who pays the price for other peoples' poor decisions with regards to alcohol.
Throughout our Inquiry, we heard heard countless stories of the ways in which responding day in day out to alcohol-fuelled incidents is physically and emotionally challenging to emergency service personnel, and it is significant to remember this very human effect of alcohol-fuelled behaviour on those public-spirited people who man our emergency services.
From breaking up drunken street fights, to pumping the stomach of a young person, to tackling house fires caused or exacerbated by alcohol-induced forgetfulness, our frontline emergency services do a first rate job in extremely challenging circumstances. They do this with bravery and without great rewards, and we should all be immensely proud and grateful for the work of these largely unsung heroes.
But we must also recognise that such behaviour impacts significantly upon their morale, health and wellbeing. I was shocked to hear the way in which police, fire, ambulance, and accident and emergency personal face the daily risk - and frequently daily reality - of being assaulted and abused when dealing with intoxicated individuals. According to one police force, their staff survey shows that '90 per cent of police officers expect to be assaulted on a Friday and Saturday night when they police during the night time economy!'
And it is not just the frontline staff who are impacted, but the actions of intoxicated individuals have severe knock on effects across the emergency services more broadly. Alcohol-related behaviour places a huge burden on police time, is a major cause of fires, and drains the resources of the ambulances services and emergency departments. It is estimated, for example, that alcohol costs the NHS £3.5 billion annually, placing pressure on vital resources which are already stretched!
This should be considered wholly unacceptable. We must do much, much more to reduce the scale of alcohol issues on emergency services workers individually and on their services' resources as a whole. Our All Party Group's Report makes a series of Recommendations, key of which is the need for a Government led National Strategy to counter the impact of excessive alcohol consumption, of the type reported to our Inquiry. As well as specific steps which Government and other organisations can take, what our Inquiry has shown is that this issue also demands nothing less than serious public cultural change as to what is considered acceptable behaviour towards those who serve so selflessly and faithfully in our emergency services in this country today. We all need to play a part in this by enjoying drink responsibly, particularly during the coming Christmas season - and encouraging others to do so too.