Extended drinking gives big headache

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

WEDNESDAY, November 23, 2005.

A date set to be so significant it would change the way the British would drink.

For that was the day 24-hour licensing came into effect.

Introduced under Labour, the reforms were aimed at tackling alcohol-bingeing by creating a new 'cafe culture'.

Some 1,000 premises across England and Wales were given ‘round-the-clock licenses, with many more allowed to extend opening times by one or two hours.

However, five years on and the benefits of the reforms have “failed to materialise”, according to Home Secretary Theresa May.

Ms May said binge-drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence had increased over the past five years, adding that police and hospital A&E departments had been left to “bear the brunt” of the situation.

But have later licenses had any effect on our region?

Frontline staff in North East Wales hospitals agree alcohol-related cases have continued to rise, despite the changes.

Andy Scotson, spokesman for Wrexham Maelor hospital, said it was difficult to determine the number of people who were in A&E due to alcohol.

He said: “Although there are some people who are very clearly the worse for wear, equally there are people who may accidentally injure themselves while on a night out.

“It isn’t possible to determine whether having had a few drinks played a part in their accident.

“While it is difficult to calculate exact figures, it is certainly the experience of staff in the department that the number of people with alcohol related conditions and injuries and cases of severe intoxication have been increasing – although this increase was underway before changes in licensing hours in 2005.

“Such patients can cause particular difficulties for staff as they may be unable to communicate clearly or to follow instructions, meaning they take longer to treat, and are more likely to become unruly and aggressive.

“The hospital would therefore welcome any measures that encourage people to drink moderately and not to the point where they risk causing themselves or others injury or harm.”

North Wales Police, however, say that alcohol related crime in the region has been going down.

From April 1 to June 30 this year, of 4,452 recorded crimes in the Eastern division, 261 were deemed alcohol-related.

According to police figures, anti-social behaviour has also dropped force-wide compared with the same three month period last year, decreasing from an average per month of 3,777 incidents in 2009 to 3474.3in 2010 (eight per cent).

Insp Paul Firth, based in Wrexham, said that tackling anti-social behaviour, which included alcohol related crime, was an ongoing campaign and they were showing a good reduction across the board.

He said: "It is not just about responding: we need to find out why it is happening.

"We regularly hold events in our areas to highlight the problems and to try and get the message across.

“We recently had an event in Flintshire when more than 50 licensees attended along with the councils, police, fire and we had a young girl who spoke about her problem with alcoholism.

“She received a standing ovation because she was able to talk about her experience.

"We have a lot of ongoing initiatives in Wrexham and Flintshire focusing on the anti-social behaviour. It is important that along with our partners we focus on the reasons why problems occur. As the police on our own we will not be able to do this."

As part of wider proposals to reduce anti-social behaviour nationwide, Theresa May announced there will be reforms of the licensing system.

The Home Office has launched a consultation - Rebalancing the Licensing Act - asking for public opinions on plans to overhaul the current regime in order to give more power to local authorities and police.

Do you think later licenses were a good move?

Have they helped tackle the problems in your area, or should we call time on 24 hour-drinking? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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