SOARING numbers of alcohol casualties are pushing "snowed under" doctors and nurses in the Royal Berkshire Hospital's emergency wards to the limit.
The hospital has seen an 11% rise in patients admitted to its Emergency Department suffering from alcohol-related accidents or injuries - with staff treating at least one intoxicated patient a day.
Shock figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request by Reading East MP Rob Wilson reveal 457 people were admitted to the hospital under the influence between April 1 last year and February 29, compared to 407 for the same period the previous year.
The figures also reveal during the same period 78 under-18s were admitted to the Royal Berks under the influence, and 40 of them were under 16.
Admissions peak on Friday and Saturday nights when young binge drinkers hit the town, but Debbie Marlow, one of two alcohol nurse specialists employed since December to tackle alcohol-related illnesses, stresses people of all ages are being admitted.
She said: "We are seeing a lot more people of all ages with long term problems and from questioning the staff there is usually an alcohol-related attendance every shift."
Colleague Tori Spencer described it as "frustrating" for staff and added: "They are very snowed under and time limited. If it continues it's going to have a big impact on the NHS. There will be more demand on beds and the money is going to struggle to stretch. Alcohol leads to so many physical and mental health problems. While alcohol is so cheap and readily available it will cause damage."
Mr Wilson is backing the Government's proposed Alcohol Strategy calling for minimum alcohol pricing and for additional powers for hospitals to hold to account pubs and clubs that routinely send drunks to them by triggering licensing reviews of hotspots. He said: "Action is required to get these numbers down. They're an unnecessary drain on NHS resources and a waste of nurses and doctors' time.
"Unfortunately some drinkers get drunk on cheap booze before they go out, leading to unacceptable drunken behaviour on our streets. It's time to get tough on the irresponsible binge-drinkers."