Hospital pass

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A top doctor’s broken ranks to criticise the district health board for exaggerating Queenstown’s drinking problem.

Lakes District Hospital clinical director Dr Jennifer Keys says while booze is an issue, Southern DHB’s comments on a proposed public booze ban don’t reflect what she’s now seeing day-to-day.

SDHB bosses say they’re aware of her views but don’t have the stats to back them up.

SDHB called for a 24/7 ban in its submission to Queenstown’s council on its bylaw change, to “ease the burden” on the hospital.

It states 503 people attended the hospital in the last financial year due to booze – with an average of four “potentially life-threatening” presentations a week.

“They’ve got a very strong opinion that people in Queenstown get drunk and get injured,” Keys says of the higher-ups at the health board.

“I don’t think we’ve got a really big problem. If we did, we’d be shouting about it.”

She believes there’s been a “marked change” in the number of booze-impaired people turning up at the emergency department (ED) in recent years – particularly since bouncers introduced a system to communicate to each other about sozzled punters.

“We’ve really noticed a reduction.”

In a statement to SDHB medical officer of health Dr Marion Poore confirms Keys got a copy of the draft submission, and made it clear she believes alcohol-related issues are declining.

“This is very encouraging, however over this 12-month period of data collection five per cent of all presentations to Lakes ED were related to alcohol and in the context of managing demand for acute health care services then this is a health issue that could be addressed,” Poore says.

Queenstown’s council wants to tighten rules around drinking in public in the resort, including banning Crate Day and starting alcohol bans in public areas at 8pm at night, rather than 10pm.

Both SDHB and Queenstown Police called for a total ban on drinking in public other than licensed premises or events. The council received 45 submissions in total. Thirty-four oppose at least one of the changes, while 11 support them.

Keys says most alcohol-related incidents dealt with at the ED are minor to moderate.

“We do sometimes see drunk people that have fallen over and sustained a broken hip, or a broken ankle.

“On the really odd occasion we get a teenager who’s drunk themselves into oblivion.”

She says it doesn’t have the problems of New Zealand cities.

“Christchurch ED gets a lot of chronic alcoholics and people living very, very hard lives. We don’t really have that in Queenstown.”

When asked if the health board has data to back up Keys’ belief the situation is improving, Poore says data collection on alcohol-related presentations to ED only started in July 2017.

It will be “some time before we can accurately confirm the trend that Dr Keys is describing”.

She says the SDHB stands by its submission, and that its main focus is to support the proposed bylaw.

“Alcohol-related acute presentation data from Lakes District Hospital was provided to assist councillors with their decision making but is only part of the picture of alcohol-related health harm.”

As previously reported by the Poore says the number of people seeking help for addictions in Queenstown’s doubled in the past two years, with alcohol being the biggest issue.

“Alcohol-impaired people present to emergency departments in all public hospitals for a variety of reasons including fractures, lacerations and the effects of intoxication.

“All patients are seen and treated but as these cases are largely preventable it makes sense to use local evidence to develop alcohol harm reduction programmes aimed at reducing the impact on hospital EDs”.

Councillors will next discuss the bylaw on October 25.

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz