The following address was given by Dr Stephen Parnis, National Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, at the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) 2015 NSW Election Platform launch. Dr Parnis has been a forthright critic of Australia’s high rates of alcohol-related harm and a supporter of strong Government action to reduce the toll.
The alliance launched their platform ‘Not one more’ at Sydney’s Parliament House in November 2014, urging NSW MP’s to take action on alcohol.
Each day in NSW alcohol results in 66 assaults, including 27 domestic assaults, 28 emergency department presentations, 142 hospitalisations and three deaths. One more harm from alcohol is one too many.
The upcoming State Election in March 2015 provides NSW with an opportunity to ensure that their next Government continues to work towards a comprehensive plan that addresses alcohol harms.
I’m an emergency physician. I work at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. And, though it pains me to say it as a Victorian, I acknowledge that New South Wales (NSW) has led the way in many areas of alcohol reform in recent years. It’s a model that could be replicated well and truly across the nation.
Unfortunately despite this leadership there are at least 28 alcohol-related emergency department presentations in NSW every single day. There are about 142 hospital presentations and admissions across the state. And every day there are 66 assaults that are related to alcohol and 3 deaths. At least that we know of.
Emergency department resources are all too often directed at providing lifesaving care to people who have consumed too much alcohol, or those who have become the victim of someone who has consumed too much alcohol.
Not only does it impact on the individual, it impacts on families and friends. I too often have had to tell people devastating news. I remember their faces, and I regret the fact that I will have to do it again.
It impacts on clinicians too. We are exposed to verbal and physical abuse on a regular basis and we spend many hours patching up those who have had a lucky escape, or providing acute care to those who haven’t been so lucky.
Research conducted by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine has recently demonstrated that 98 per cent of emergency department staff had suffered verbal aggression from drunk patients in the last 12 months. 92 per cent of emergency department staff – and I’m one of those – had experienced physical threats from drunk patients in the last year.
It’s dangerous, it’s menacing and it makes any of us think twice about putting ourselves at risk on a regular basis.
Here in NSW we have seen some positive changes made by the Baird Government, including the introduction of lockouts in the CBD and even reduced availability of alcohol via the 10pm bottle shop closures across the State.
In January this year, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) along with other members of NAAPA welcomed these reforms. These are reforms that are based on the evidence, and they are reforms that have and will provide a safer community.
We’ve had more time to digest the changes in Newcastle and we’re starting to see those effects now ten months on. I hope that similar benefits will be seen from what’s been instituted in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross.
The reforms have reduced crime. They have reduced the harms of alcohol. They have reduced emergency department admissions. And they have the overwhelming support of the population.
From what we are hearing from the police, from ambulance officers, from my colleague’s medical and emergency department staff and from local residents these changes have been overwhelmingly positive.
These policies have provided the foundation for profound and systemic change which we need to keep our communities safe, healthy and free from the harms of alcohol.
Much has been done. But we are dealing with a culture that has been in place since January 26 1788, it’s not going to happen overnight. But it’s absolutely essential that it does.
The devastating impact alcohol has on families and children, the lifelong disease and disability as a result of alcohol, the communities across NSW constantly fighting for a right to be heard means that the issues around alcohol are not just limited to Kings Cross or similar hot spots in other cities.
Alcohol is a problem that saturates our society and invades our homes. It destroys many families. And when subjected to the abuse of alcohol it creates intergenerational harm.
I myself lost a grandmother who died at the age of 46 from alcohol. Her father died at 38 from alcohol. These are things that still have impacts decades after the occasion occurs.
And this is why the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance is focusing its efforts over this summer on five areas:
- Protecting children and families – those who are often the most innocent in our society.
- Putting communities first – no person is an island, we live together. We can look after each other and we can harm each other.
- We must reduce disability and disease,
- We must continue the fight to prevent alcohol related street violence,
- And we must build a robust alcohol harm prevention framework.
These five areas represent what the Alliance sees as its high priority for bringing about change and stopping the harm caused by alcohol.
The NSW AMA is a very strong supporter of NAAPA because this alliance brings together researchers, community groups, police, alcohol and drug treatment facilities, young people’s organisations and of course health professionals across the spectrum to provide NSW Government’s and decision makers with solutions to one of our greatest preventive health challenges.
It is no surprise, and it is often a cliché but a true one, that alcohol causes more harm in the community than all other drugs put together.
There is a sound evidence-base of policies and programs that work to prevent alcohol harms.
We know that lower prices, increased availability and extensive promotions to the wrong groups leads to increases in alcohol consumption and the harms that we can predict so easily. We need to address these environmental levers if we are to reduce alcohol harms.
We also know that we need to raise awareness of ways that people can reduce their risk of the harm of alcohol, through evidence-based public education campaigns and brief intervention programs. This is about culture change, and about building resilience in cultures and communities.
The NSW community is ready for change, and I can see that as an outsider.
The NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance’s election platform represents real solutions to the problems that we know are everywhere.
Because we know that another family broken due to alcohol is one too many, another child born with the damage of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorder is one too many, another young person’s life derailed or ended by alcohol is one too many, another community living in fear is one too many.
NAAPA will be campaigning over the coming months for all political parties in NSW to commit to a comprehensive plan to stop the harms caused by alcohol.
NAAPA will advocate for the policies to reduce the number of alcohol-related domestic assaults.
NAAPA will advocate for a dedicated diagnostic clinic for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorders to continue at Westmead Children’s Hospital, and to expand and flourish in its role.
NAAPA will advocate for a service dedicated to supporting communities to empower them in having a say in liquor licensing decisions. So that the onus is not on them to prove the harm, but the onus is on the applicant to prove no harm.
NAAPA will advocate further to reduce closing times of late night pubs and clubs across NSW to ensure that the lessons learned from Newcastle and the Cross can be to the benefit of all of NSW.
These are just a few of the 19 proposals that we are confident will reduce the harm in NSW and build on the substantial progress that was made last summer in tackling street violence and a range of its associated problems.
I am confident that what we are seeking is achievable, affordable and will make a difference very quickly to the lives of people throughout this State.
NAAPA’s sharp focus is on stopping harms from alcohol, because one harm from alcohol is one too many.
And for these reasons it is my pleasure today to officially launch the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance Election Platform ‘Not one more’.
You can get involved in NAAPA’s Not One More campaign by sending an email to your local member calling on them to take action on alcohol. Find out more