Life on festive frontline with Leeds A&E

A nurse treats a patient in the A&E department at Leeds General Infirmary. PIC: Anna Gowthorpe
A nurse treats a patient in the A&E department at Leeds General Infirmary. PIC: Anna Gowthorpe
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With the party season in full swing, Laura Bowyer and Katie Baldwin talked to doctors and nurses in the a&e department at LGI to see how they cope with the inlfux of patients.

THEY’RE not the first people you would expect to see on duty in an accident and emergency department.

But, in a sad sign of the times, uniformed police officers are, in fact, far from an uncommon sight during busy nights in our hospitals.

The two police officers were standing guard outside the cubicle of a suspected drink driver.

The man, who is believed to have been at his office party, was alleged to have been spotted behind the wheel of his car.

He had fallen over on the pavement earlier in the evening and had received a huge cut to his head.

As charge nurse Gavin Lord carefully stitched the man’s head back together the officers were ready to escort the patient for a stay at the new Elland Road custody suite.

And for the doctors and nurses at Leeds General Infirmary’s accident and emergency department patients who are intoxicated are not an unusual sight.

Another man had been rushed to the accident and emergency department suffering from the ill-effects of alcohol after he was spotted at the city’s train station.

He was then spotted a few hours later slumped in a wheelchair fast asleep.

Later in the evening another casualty was rushed into hospital after drinking three-quarters of a bottle of whisky.

And within a matter of half-an-hour three women had been wheeled into the unit by ambulance crews after their Christmas parties.

The YEP revealed earlier this week that one in five attendances at Leeds’s A&E departments over the weekend are due to alcohol.

A survey by a city doctor also found that a third of the men going to the Leeds General Infirmary unit between Friday and Sunday were there because of booze.

In total, 20 per cent of visits were alcohol-related, with the highest at LGI, where it was almost a quarter of attendances. At St James’s Hospital, it was 15 per cent.

Nationally, alcohol is believed to cost the NHS £4bn a year and booze-related deaths have more than doubled in the last 10 years.

In Leeds, there are over 17,000 dependent drinkers and 35,000 people whose drinking puts them at high risk.

In 2011, the Yorkshire Evening Post revealed that the cost of alcohol-related incidents and illnesses had cost the city £438m in one year.

Stuart Nuttall, consultant in emergency medicine, told the YEP that as the night unfolds staff start to see the impact of alcohol and drugs on patients.

He said: “As the night tends to wear on between 2am and 4am there is a lot more interpersonal fighting as well as the effects of alcohol and other drugs that people take when they are on a night on.

“Generally people come with friends and people are very good at looking after each other.

“If alcohol is involved in fighting it is often the people who have been hit by someone else that we tend to see here and treat them.

“And then in with that we deal with the major trauma of serious injuries that can happen during the night some of which are alcohol-related and some of which are traffic related.

“But by 6am things start to get a little bit more settled and then its a case of trying to get on top of all that before the day starts again.

“People come to accident and emergency when they feel the need to. We will treat anything we can and we are a trusted brand and name. Within four hours we can turn most of these around.

“We run a consultant service here 24/7 to help cover with the trauma.”

On a recent Saturday night over 130 patients visited the department at Leeds General Infirmary. In the space of just 12 hours overnight staff treated a further 94 patients during another busy evening.

And it is the team at Leeds General Infirmary who are there to care for people in an emergency.

Mr Nuttall added: “We did a recent survey of number of patients here and a third of men who come into the emergency department over a weekend are involved in alcohol-related incidents through the issues of chronic drinking,interpersonal violence or acute intoxication. Look after yourselves and look after your friends.”

A few hours into the Yorkshire Evening Post’s stint in accident and emergency saw a man rushed into the resuscitation room after suffering a fall while he was believed to be under the influence of a legal high.

Gavin Lord, charge nurse, said: “It tends to be busier after midnight through to 2am.

“We can see a lot of falls because people have had a little bit too much to drink and also because it is icy.

“What is quite sad can be having to work Christmas Eve night and see people at 5am and 6am and that will be the start of their Christmas Day.

“Some days it can feel like it is higher than 80 per cent of the people we treat who have had alcohol related problems.

“Last night in the space of just one hour I had to suture five different people and the majority of those were related to alcohol.”

But it is dedicated staff like nurse Angi Strafford who help to signpost patients to the Leeds Addiction Unit if she believes there is an underlying issue.

The service helps to offer support and advice by establishing a care plan.

Angi said: “Certainly this week we get a lot of people who go to office parties and drink a bit more than normal.

“But then we also see people who regularly drink to excess who might be more lonely or isolated who come in more often because they don’t want to be by themselves.

“This is not necessarily isolated to the Christmas period.

“We get so many young people who come in who are on their own and have no friends with them.”

And it is not just adults who found themselves in the accident and emergency department at night.

Across the corridor is the children’s emergency department. Mothers were spotted cradling their upset children while a youngster was having his temperature monitored by staff.

Another tot was spotted darting along the corridor in just his pyjamas as his mother trailed behind him carrying a sick bowl.

Pat Tomenson, who has been an enrolled nurse for 14 years, said: “We get people coming in anytime from midnight right through to six in the morning.

“We can sometimes see a lot of head injuries and facial injuries such as broken jaws and broken cheek bones.

“Just make sure you don’t get to the point where you have drunk so much that you can’t stand up.”

A number of sick bowls were in the middle of the waiting room as adults waited to be seen in the accident and emergency department. But thankfully none of them had to be used.