As predicted by Waikato Hospital staff on Friday, the Emergency Department saw multiple alcohol-related referrals on Crate Day weekend.
Immediate past-president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine and Waikato Hospital emergency physician Dr John Bonning says intoxicated patients came on top of the general presentations to the ED.
"It was a horrendously busy weekend ... We were so busy with other patients [that] the alcohol-related patients were an unfortunate, unnecessary and avoidable inconvenience. At midnight [Saturday] we still had 45 patients waiting."
There are no specific Waikato District Health Board statistics on the number of alcohol-related referrals on Crate Day, but Bonning says there were about a dozen patients with alcohol-related injuries over Saturday and into Sunday.
"The vast majority were young males in their mid-twenties. Apart from [heavily] intoxicated patients [seeking help], a few people crashed their car, some had broken bones, concussions [and] cuts from falling through a glass window."
Founded in 2010 by the radio station The Rock, Crate Day combines the Kiwi summer essentials: Barbecue, beer and blasting tunes. It started as a casual call to celebrate the beginning of summer and "sharing a crate with your mate", but for many people the day ends in the already under-pressure Emergency Department.
In the weekends leading up to Christmas, Bonning usually sees a burst of people coming to the ED due to alcohol.
"[Around this time every year] one in six people in the ED in the early hours of the morning are there as a result of alcohol. On Crate Day it is similar," Bonning says
Instead of following the call to share a crate, some people see Crate Day as a challenge to consume a whole crate by themselves. One crate contains 12 large bottles of 745ml each adding up to nine litres of beer in total.
Bonning says: "We don't need a day promoting binge-drinking ... [and] drinking a crate by yourself is just wrong."
The executive director of Alcohol Healthwatch, Dr Nicki Jackson, says excessive drinking tends to spike in December and January. "It all starts with Crate Day." Her organisation has been calling for an end to Crate Day since its inception 12 years ago.
"[The crates] went from beer to mixed crates with RTDs. [Crate Day] glorifies excessive drinking, causes harm and is a huge burden on the healthcare system. We don't need it, especially not in the middle of a pandemic."
Bonning says he doesn't believe in abstinence, but drinking in moderation is key. "I don't think drinking should be banned, gathering with friends to have a drink is not wrong. [But] drink in moderation, be responsible."
He says the DHB does not need avoidable presentations to the ED. "The healthcare system is under pressure as it is, now we are in the middle of a pandemic [on top of that]. We have a crisis on our hands, staff is stretched due to Covid ... We quite strongly believe that every alcohol-related referral to the ED is unnecessary. "
However, even though Bonning emphasises the ED would take care of everybody and wouldn't judge, he urges everyone to have a think.
"It's not just about yourself. Think about it ... visualise the overworked nurses that care for you when you are incontinent and vomit everywhere. It's not fun. Your actions don't just affect you."
He says apart from direct intoxication there are a range of injuries that relate to alcohol use. Over the years he has seen intoxicated patients with cut tendons, broken bones, someone who had a firework go off in their eye and even 13 and 14-year-olds who needed care because of alcohol consumption.
"I find the most difficult [cases] to deal with are [the ones where] innocent people get severely injured, like with drunk driving or assault. This is not fair."
Jackson says alcohol also has an impact on the number of sexual offences and affects mental health. "[It's] a depressant ... [and] often makes anxiety worse. A lot of suicides involve alcohol."
She says one in five New Zealanders drink hazardously and during lockdown there was a 20 per cent increase in alcohol use. According to her, the fact that pubs were closed got more people drinking at home and purchasing alcohol from off-licence stores.
"The key drivers of drinking are price, availability and advertising. Alcohol is sold more cheaply and there are many [liquor stores] around. We live in a society that is so pro-alcohol, you have to explain why you are not drinking ... why you are not taking a drug."
Crate Day fan Marc Everson makes society responsible for the negative connotation of the day. "The Kiwi drinking culture took it there. When it started, it was a positive thing."
He says to him the day was not so much about alcohol. "I'm from Waihī Beach, so for me, Crate Day is the symbol of the start of summer. Although it's called Crate Day the majority of people [I know] are not focused on getting drunk. I never had a negative first-hand experience, [me and my mates] are chill."
Jackson says Crate Day is a marketing promotion and New Zealand needs stricter laws. In 2012, New Zealand introduced the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act.
"The only part that would cover Crate Day is section 237, irresponsible promotion of alcohol. But the laws are not strong enough to apply this, because it officially says that the crate is meant to be shared. But if you look on social media you see that [a lot] aim to consume the crate by themselves."