ACT News

New alcohol, drug and venue recording to trial at Calvary Hospital

Calvary Hospital's emergency department will record every patient's drug and alcohol intake and the venues that intoxicated people have attended in an Australia-first study.

Eight hospitals are taking part in the national pilot study that aims to reduce the cost of drugs and alcohol on society, provide intervention with problem drinkers and determine the licensed venues that aren't serving patrons responsibly.

Dr David Caldicott was instrumental in setting up a trial study into drug and alcohol reporting at Australia's emergency ...
Dr David Caldicott was instrumental in setting up a trial study into drug and alcohol reporting at Australia's emergency departments. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

The $3.6 million initiative, set to start in July, was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and pushed by several professionals including Calvary Hospital emergency consultant, Dr David Caldicott.

An estimated one in eight presentations to Australian hospitals are a result of harmful alcohol abuse, according to a survey carried out by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

In Canberra, emergency departments recorded a 35 per cent increase in intoxication cases and a 24 percent increase in alcohol-related injuries in three years from 2013-2015. They reported serious injuries including skull fractures, bleeding to the brain and permanent brain injury.

But Dr Caldicott believes documented figures are significantly underestimated.


"Often intoxicated people have fallen or been beaten up and they get discharged with that code. The reason they are in hospital, which fundamentally is because they are intoxicated, is lost," he said.

"If you put it in context, if this was an infectious disease, we'd be out there in our super ET suits looking for the source of this disease and shutting it down."

Dr Caldicott is in the process of hiring a research assistant who, through this study, will ask each person who enters the ED about the amount of alcohol they had consumed, the last liquor licensing venue they visited and their usual drinking habits.

Identified problem drinkers will be offered treatment.

The assistant will also screen for any illicit drugs or pharmaceutical drugs taken for non-pharmaceutical purposes.

Dr Caldicott suspects the most controversial part of the study will be documenting venues. While most licensees in Canberra are sensible, he said there are "one or two that could be concerned, that are frequently associated with problems that end up in the emergency department".

"Hopefully they'll see it as an opportunity to take helpful feedback and implement changes that will allow their venues to become safer for the patrons."

Chief investigator of the study and Deakin University professor, Dr Peter Miller, hopes the study will reveal the harm associated with drinking while out and about compared with drinking at home.

A pilot version of the same study undertaken at Warrnambool Hospital in Victoria found two thirds of harm came from packaged liquor bought at bottle shops and most injuries occurred in homes.

"This will tell us information that we can feed back to policy makers," Dr Miller said.

"It's not just a data collection exercise, it is very much an intervention trial and the results overseas have been very compelling in the reduction you get in assaults and alcohol related injuries."

"Every brain injury costs us $12 million, so if this project prevents even one injury, it is well worth it."

The Australian Institute of Criminology estimates alcohol costs Australia $14 billion annually.

On January 28, Attorney-General and Health Minister Simon Corbell said he would announce "major reforms" to deal with alcohol related violence within a fortnight.

The government is yet to finalise the changes or say when they will be made public.  Mr Corbell's office was contacted for comment for this story and said a spokesperson would respond on Tuesday.

The other hospitals taking part in the study include St Vincents Healthcare hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, Monash Health hospitals in Melbourne, South West Healthcare in Victoria and Barwon Health in Geelong.