Drink Tank

The women who shouldn’t be in ED

After two decades of working in an Emergency Department (ED) I am all too familiar with the links between alcohol and family and domestic violence.

While alcohol alone doesn’t cause family violence, as a frontline emergency doctor I have witnessed its effect on increasing the severity and the frequency of this violence.

I remember the faces of the women I have seen over the years who have presented to ED due to alcohol-fuelled family violence. They stay with me every day like a translucent bad dream.

I vividly remember one particular shift, Australia Day in an outer metropolitan hospital ED that could be around the corner from where you live.

On that day of national celebration I attended to seven women who were the survivors of alcohol-related family violence in the one shift.

One woman with fractured ribs and a collapsed lung, another with a spiral fracture of her arm having escaped the twisting gasp of a drunken partner. Another who had tried to take a slab of beer away from her husband to avoid “what was coming” ended up with her face so traumatised that it was difficult to tell what part was stoved in or swollen.

The common theme was alcohol and a suggestion that somehow this mitigated the events.

Australia Day appears to be the national day of getting drunk and injuring others. But unfortunately these incidents can occur on any day of the year.

Almost every day, in every ED across the country, the doctors and nursing staff are seeing women who just should not be there.

Emergency clinicians are sick and tired of these recurrent anecdotes. Put each of them in a matchbox and they would fill the entire Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Reducing the harmful abuse of alcohol is not going to ‘solve’ family and domestic violence, but it would go a long way to reducing its severity and frequency.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) is currently leading efforts to address alcohol-related family violence in Australia. On 17 June 2015, Australian of the Year Rosie Batty will launch FARE’s National framework for action to prevent alcohol-related family violence at Parliament House in Canberra. This Framework proposes policies and programs for Australian governments which will reduce and prevent this violence. Follow the conversation on Twitter

Diana Egerton-Warburton

Associate Professor Diana Egerton-Warburton is an Emergency Physician with a passion for patient advocacy. She is chair of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) Public Health Committee and has led the project to highlight and prevent the harmful effects of alcohol on our community. She is Director of Emergency Medicine Research at Monash Medical Centre and an Associate Professor at the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash University. She has recently been appointed to the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and other Drugs. Diana has worked for over two decades in Emergency Departments in Australia and seen first-hand the devastating effects of alcohol harm on peoples lives.

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