[WATCH] Medical clinics in entertainment hotspots could send wrong message

With more than 20 years’ experience at hospital’s emergency department, clinical chairperson Michael Spiteri talks to MaltaToday about the importance of alcohol and drug prevention

Michael Spiteri, clinical chairperson at Mater Dei Hospital’s Emergency Department, said there was “no magic button” solution to relieve the pressure on emergency services caused by intoxicated people
Michael Spiteri, clinical chairperson at Mater Dei Hospital’s Emergency Department, said there was “no magic button” solution to relieve the pressure on emergency services caused by intoxicated people

Treatment clinics at entertainment spots must not send the message that binge drinking is fine because help is not far away, a senior hospital consultant has warned.

Michael Spiteri, clinical chairperson at Mater Dei Hospital’s Emergency Department, said there was “no magic button” solution to relieve the pressure on emergency services caused by intoxicated people.

“We do set up clinics when there are events where we expect a lot of alcohol consumption but it would be a mistake to believe that opening clinics here and there will solve everything,” Spiteri said.

A firm believer in prevention, he called for a holistic approach to encourage people not to get intoxicated.

The issue came to the fore early this month when a nurse expressed frustration on social media over the number of people admitted to emergency because of drunkenness in just one night.

Subsequently, Health Minister Chris Fearne floated the idea of setting up a clinic in Paceville to treat people who have had one drink too many, relieving the pressure on the hospital.

“Setting up a clinic is not necessarily a bad idea, far from it, but it has to be well-planned strategically and it must not give the impression that one can binge drink at will because help is not far away,” Spiteri said.

With more than 20 years’ experience at hospital’s emergency department, Spiteri stressed the importance of alcohol and drug prevention.

“No matter how many clinics and personnel we have, once someone is admitted to a health centre with substance or alcohol intoxication, we already have a problem,” he said.

And with Malta’s party season reaching its peak, Spiteri noted that the drinking problem was not confined to one location, or even one season.

“During the summer, there is an obvious peak because there are more parties, people socialise more and there are a greater number of tourists around but there are
also spikes during the winter, such as the Christmas
period,” Spiteri said.

The number of people admitted because of alcohol and drug intoxication has risen over the years, but this is also linked to the fact that the population has risen significantly.

Spiteri said Mater Dei was one of the most well-equipped hospitals in Europe and the emergency department provided top quality service to all its patients.

But do all the people admitted into emergency because of alcohol intoxication need medical help, or is it simply a question of sleeping out the drunkenness?

“We have to take in consideration the fact that some symptoms might look grievous to the untrained eye, but in a state of panic, some people over-assume… No matter how petty the patient’s symptoms seem to be, they will always be given utmost care and attention irrespective of how many nurses or doctors we have,” Spiteri said.

He reiterated his call for a collective effort to focus on prevention through increased education on the problems caused by binge drinking.

“I must and will keep on insisting on the importance of prevention. It is vital to keep on educating people from a very young age. The mentality of binge drinking on the weekends, with the mind-set that it is not dangerous, must stop,” he said.

Spiteri believes that providing adequate recreational areas for young people and trying to shift Malta’s label as a binge drinking paradise, could be the real lifesavers.

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