The number of late night drinkers making emergency visits to hospital has trebled since the licensing laws were relaxed, a new study indicates.
The research, published in the Emergency Medicine Journal, was carried out at one inner city London hospital and medics are warning the findings are likely to be mirrored at city hospitals across the UK.
The new licensing law, which allows alcohol to be available around the clock, took effect in November 2005.
Supporters said it would curb the amount of binge drinking and associated crime and disorder, and boost public safety.
The study at St Thomas’ hospital looked at the number of emergency care visits before and after the changes had been introduced.
Its emergency care department is one of the largest in the UK, and close to a host of licensed premises.
The figures showed that in March 2005, before the licensing law changes, more than 10,000 visits were made to the department. In March 2006, there were 3 per cent fewer visits.
But the number of overnight visits increased, and the proportion of those with alcohol related problems trebled.
In March 2005, there were over 2,700 overnight visits to emergency care. But in March 2006, there were more than 3,100 overnight visits – a 15 per cent increase.
Seventy nine of these visits were alcohol related in March 2005 but by March 2006 the number alcohol related visits had risen to 250.
The number of visits as a result of assault, associated with excess drinking, doubled, and the number of associated hospital admissions almost trebled between the two time frames.
The authors suggest the figures indicate the legislation has had the opposite effect to that intended.
They added: ‘We feel that our main findings are likely to be representative of inner-city Emergency Departments (EDs) in the UK. If reproduced over longer time periods and across the UK, as a whole the additional numbers of patients presenting to EDs with alcohol related problems could be very substantial.’