Changes to the UK licensing laws have trebled the number of overnight visits to emergency care for alcohol related problems, reveals research in Emergency Medicine Journal.
The new licensing law, which allows alcohol to be available around the clock, took effect in November 2005.
The legislation was introduced in a bid to curb the amount of binge drinking and associated crime and disorder, and boost public safety.
The study findings are based on emergency care visits to one inner city London teaching hospital across two separate months, before and after the changes had been introduced.
Only those adults aged over 16, and who had been drinking before they came to the emergency department, were included in the audit.
The emergency care department at the hospital is one of the largest in the UK, and close to an array of licensed premises in central London.
The figures showed that in March 2005, before the licensing law changes, more than 10,000 visits were made to the department. In March 2006, there were 3% fewer visits.
But the number of overnight visits increased, and the proportion of those with alcohol related problems trebled.
In March 2005, there were over 2700 overnight visits to emergency care. But in March 2006, there were more than 3100 overnight visits, equivalent to a rise of 15% over the two months.
Just under 3% (79) of these visits were alcohol related in March 2005. But by March 2006, this proportion had risen to 8% (250).
The number of visits as a result of assault, associated with excess drinking, doubled, and the number of associated hospital admissions almost trebled between the two time frames.
The authors suggest that the figures indicate that the legislation has had the opposite effect to that intended.
'We feel that our findings are likely to be representative of inner city [emergency care departments] in the UK," say the authors. 'If reproduced over longer time periods and across the UK, as a whole, the additional numbers of patients presenting to [emergency care], with alcohol related problems could be very substantial," they add.
Dr Alastair Newton, Emergency Department, St Thomas' Hospital, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
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