Your article about the pressure on the hospital's Emergency Department (HBT "Hospital nears record ED presentations", December 29) was alarming as it once again raised the issue of alcohol related "emergencies".

Of course the staff will not make a big issue of it but I am increasingly concerned about the impact alcohol and drugs are having on New Zealand society.

Our police, fire and ambulance services are having to deal with the consequences of alcohol in emergency events far too frequently. We have been told of the trauma this causes to them in their work and it's not something we should tolerate.

Health professionals get bogged down in their work by people presenting with conditions caused directly or indirectly by alcohol - "If there are alcohol-related incidents, often they come in their numbers and that has a huge impact on trying to triage." (HBT December 28).

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One effect is that other people have their important health treatment delayed, but of equal significance is the impact on staff dealing with these alcohol-fuelled nincompoops. We hear reports of physical and verbal abuse of our doctors and nurses and again this should not be tolerated.

While all this is happening, the "barons" of the booze and hospitality industries, motivated by greed, continue to ply their poison. Wrecking homes and communities and causing countless damage to our society.

A Ministry of Health paper quotes a 2009 study estimating that harmful alcohol use cost New Zealand $4.9 billion. That was nearly 10 years ago and the situation has got worse. Police statistics show that half of serious violent crimes are alcohol related.

The statistics, readily available from various sources, are frightening:
• estimates indicate between 600 and 1000 people die in New Zealand each year from alcohol-related causes;

• between 18 and 35 per cent of injury-based emergency department presentations are estimated to be alcohol related, rising to between 60 and 70 per cent during the weekend;

• approximately one-third of all police apprehensions involve alcohol;

• each day, 52 individuals or groups of people are either driven home or detained in police custody because of intoxication.

How much longer will we tolerate this abuse of our emergency and health professionals? If our MPs wouldn't put up with it in the hallowed portals of their workplace, why should our precious nurses and doctors, firefighters, police and ambulance professionals be put at risk?

Another aspect is the cost. Why do we, the taxpayer, have to fork out for the damage caused by these alcohol-based businesses?

One solution would be to create a fund similar to ACC, funded by a levy on alcohol, against which the cost of all alcohol-elated emergency, health, police and social services costs were charged.

If the fund runs low increase the levy. We do it for accidents, why can't it be done to pay for the impact of alcohol? We're increasingly forced into "user pays" for services so why not for the poison of alcohol?

As we go into a new year this is a serious issue that needs thoughtful debate and concerted action by all New Zealanders.

Kerry Marshall is a retired accountant and manager with experience in the not-for-profit sector. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz