Nurses slam NZ's binge-drinking carnage
18 October 2006

They have been sworn at and vomited on by the booze-fuelled brawlers and destructive drink-drivers who some of us call friends. They have worked through the blood and the incoherent screams to save the lives of these people, while their colleagues saved the victims.

However, by yesterday, the nurses in Southland Hospital's emergency department wanted someone to share responsibility for the lives they mend every week. In a frank and unprecedented interview, eight of the hospital's frontline staff said they were frustrated so many people were allowed to drink themselves, and others, into their care.

The litany of drink-related assaults and crashes they have dealt with during the past year have been well documented but their reaction to the senselessness has not. Anxious not to link their comments with any one incident, they said they despaired about the alcohol-related injury tally, which seemed to be getting worse.

Julie McNeill fought back tears as she said the courts should send alcohol-fuelled criminals to the emergency department to see the fallout of their actions. Husbands, wives, daughters ? anyone who let their friends and family drive after drinking, or who condoned excessive drinking, needed to know what could happen next.

"We just want people to be more responsible about this, and families have to be responsible for their family members, too," she said. "Because if they came here for a day they'd see broken people and broken lives, people without physical human just goes on, and on, and on."

Emergency department clinical nurse leader Sue Bamford said Southlanders needed to take responsibility for the consequences of drinking, driving and fighting.

The nurses were sick of treating middle-aged men who drove after what they'd call "a few drinks" ? adults who should have known better but had been doing it for years. They also despaired for what felt like an increasing number of teenagers "high" on alcohol or party pills who got into trouble, or crashed fast and destructive cars.

Weekends were still busy with drinkers and their victims but the emergency department had to expect an alcohol-fuelled burst any day of the week.

"Alcohol is a real problem here," Ms Bamford said. "It makes people lose their insight and their sense of responsibility. It makes them think they are bulletproof but they are not ? and nor are the people and the families that they hurt. When are people going to get the message that using alcohol like this is not okay?"

Tania Rewi said Southland, along with every other region in New Zealand, was battling the consequences of a binge-drinking culture that showed no signs of abating. Along with colleague Lyndsey Newell, she was disappointed some patients seemed "in denial" about the harm their drinking caused.

Nursing and midwifery director Leanne Samuel said alcohol and party pills continued to be low-cost entertainment being misused at the cost of the community. It had to stop, she said.

"The cost is phenomenal, not just to the people who do it to themselves, or to the victims. We have had to send seriously injured people to Auckland, to Christchurch and to Dunedin. Suddenly, something that someone thought could only affect them affects everyone."

A police spokeswoman confirmed alcohol-related crime was a priority for Southland police.

- The Southland Times