A senior doctor has challenged the Prime Minister to spend a Saturday night in Auckland City Hospital's emergency department to see for himself the suffering caused by alcohol abuse.
Dr Heidi Baker, who works in the children's and adults emergency departments, criticised the Government's decision not to lower the breath-alcohol limit for drivers and said policymakers needed to witness the effects in an ED of heavy drinking.
Alcohol fuels up to 40 per cent of emergency department workload on Friday and Saturday nights and possibly more than 50 per cent after big sporting events, a Herald investigation found in 2006.
Emergency doctors say some excessively drunk patients are abusive and violent. Some are brought in vomiting and at risk of inhaling their vomit. Some are unconscious. Some have crashed a car while drunk and are seriously injured. Some die.
In an article on today's Dialogue page, Dr Baker, the mother of a boy, writes that she worries "whether he will one day be one of the youths that speak in such foul language in the department that I wish the elderly lady next door had left her hearing aid at home".
"Will he be brought in on a stretcher, devoid of ID, unconscious, with an ethanol level that would make the most pure of Scottish distilled whiskies look like lolly water?"
Dr Baker said politicians needed to consider the "paucity of funding" for road policing and the relatively low rate of breath-testing of drivers compared with rural Australia, where she grew up.
The harms of youth drinking have been in the spotlight following allegations of students consuming alcohol before the King's College ball last Saturday night.
Dr Barker said: "Our Prime Minister and policymakers should also spend a Saturday night in our department rather than a quiet midweek afternoon. Perhaps then some firm decisions might be forthcoming."
John Key's office did not respond yesterday to the challenge.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said: "You don't need to convince me there's a problem with young people and alcohol. I've visited emergency departments on busy nights, and I plan to visit more EDs ... to discuss this very issue."