The number of people kept overnight for emergency care because of alcohol-related problems has almost tripled since the UK changed its licensing laws, according to and article in the Emergency Medicine Journal (BMJ).

In November, 2005, UK licensing laws changed so that establishments can sell alcohol virtually 24/7. It was thought that by extending licensing hours binge drinking and crime and disorder related to drunkenness would go down.

This study looked at the number of emergency care visits to an inner-city London teaching hospital during two separate months – one month before the change in law, the other month after. It is a large emergency department, close to several drinking establishments. The study only looked at people over 16 who had been drinking before coming into the emergency department.

The study found that:
(March 2005 was before the change in the law, March 2006 was after the change)

— March 2005 – over 10,000 emergency department visits were made
— March 2006 – 3% fewer emergency department visits were made (compared to 2005)
— March 2005 – 2,700 overnight visits to emergency care
— March 2006 – 3,100 overnight visits to emergency care
— March 2005 – 3% of overnight stays were alcohol related (79 total)
— March 2006 – 8% of overnight stays were alcohol related (250 total)

The authors believe that the new legislation, rather than curb binge drinking and alcohol related crime and disorder, has had the opposite effect. They said “We feel that our findings are likely to be representative of inner city (emergency care departments) in the UK. 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.”

“Impact of the new UK licensing law on emergency hospital attendances: a cohort study”
Emergency Medicine Journal 2007; 24: 532-4

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today