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Are emergency department staffs’ perceptions about the inappropriate use of ambulances, alcohol intoxication, verbal abuse and violence accurate?


Objectives: To examine three opinions voiced by nightshift emergency department (ED) staff. First, that a significant proportion of adult patients arriving by emergency ambulance lack a clear indication for emergency transport. Second, that at night a high proportion of ambulance arrivals are drunk, abusive or leave without treatment. Third, that at night a high proportion of ambulance arrivals have been assaulted or have deliberately harmed themselves.

Methods: A retrospective audit of all 5421 new patient attendances to Glasgow Royal Infirmary ED in February 2007, including 1743 arriving by ambulance.

Results: 19.5% of ambulance arrivals lacked a clear indication for emergency transport. Between midnight and 05:00 hours: 52.5% of ambulance arrivals were intoxicated; 6.2% were abusive to staff; 14.0% left before treatment was completed; 21.4% had been assaulted and 7.4% had deliberately harmed themselves.

Conclusion: The majority of ambulances were called appropriately; however, there remains a significant proportion who could travel by other means. A high proportion of ambulance arrivals between midnight and 05:00 hours were intoxicated, abusive or victims of assault. This supported staff’s perception that such patients form a substantial proportion of departmental workload at night.

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