Trading hours for Hamilton pubs, bars in spotlight
Calls are being made to clamp down on bars’ trading hours as boozy revellers clog up Waikato Hospital’s emergency department.
And Hamilton leaders are listening, with Hamilton’s mayor saying the city council has to play a role in reducing alcohol-fuelled harm.
New figures released to Stuff under the Official Information Act, show 472 intoxicated people were admitted to Waikato Hospital’s emergency department in the 11 months to November, 2017.
In 2016, 497 drunk people were admitted to Waikato Hospital’s ED.
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Waikato Hospital emergency physician Dr John Bonning said admissions for intoxication often peaks in December.
Treating intoxicated patients is labour-intensive and takes staff away from treating vulnerable patients, such as children and the elderly.
“The figure of 472 patients doesn’t tell the full story because it doesn’t capture those people who turn up to hospital the next day who have injured themselves as a result of alcohol,” Bonning said.
“There’s also another group of patients, those who are completely sober, but who may have been assaulted or injured in a motor vehicle accident by an intoxicated person.”
In 2015, the city council voted against a proposal to introduce a one-way door plan for city pubs and bars, despite it being backed by police and health professionals.
The proposal would have curtailed early morning bar hopping, as punters wouldn’t be allowed to enter after a set hour.
But Hamilton Mayor Andrew King wants to rekindle the one-way door plan debate and said pubs and bars’ trading hours should also be scrutinised.
The council’s provisional Local Alcohol Policy is currently before the Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority (ARLA).
“We expect to hear back from ARLA in April and, at that point, we can relook at a one-way door policy,” King said.
“We want a vibrant city but if we want to limit alcohol-related harm we need to reduce the hours of purchase.
“Maybe we need to consider reducing bars’ hours and a one-way door policy, or possibly just a one-way door policy. The health and welfare of our young people are in the hands of politicians and reducing harm is certainly something that is within our power.”
Bonning, who chairs the New Zealand faculty of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said research showed cutting back bars’ hours reduced presentations to EDs for alcohol-related injuries.
“We don’t represent some modern day temperance movement because there is a huge amount of people that drink responsibly and we don’t want to penalise those drinkers.
“But research shows that for each hour you bring bars’ hours back toward midnight from the small hours, the result is a 20 per cent reduction in presentations to local emergency departments for alcohol-related injuries.”
Alex Williams, owner and manager of whiskey and cocktail bar Wonder Horse doesn’t support further restrictions on bars’ trading hours, saying robust laws exist governing the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Wonder Horse’s trading licence runs from 7am to 3am.
Evidence in support of a one-way door policy is mixed, Williams said.
“In cities where it’s been trialled, some places have reported successes and some places report massive failures.
“On a Friday or Saturday night we usually have a one-way rule on the door from about 2.30am because our drinks take a bit of time to make and, at that time, nobody needs to try and cram in a cocktail. It’s not what we are about.”
Williams welcomes bars and clubs’ trading hours being debated but hopes the city council engages with bar owners.
“Mayor Andrew King doesn’t come to town to drink and that’s not a criticism of him. But maybe he doesn’t necessarily completely understand what the issues are.”
Stephen King, director of the Alcohol and Drug Community Trust in Hamilton, said a one-way door rule would be messy to enforce and instead favours a reduction in bars’ trading hours.
The argument Hamilton’s vibrancy might be diminished if stricter alcohol laws are introduced is misguided, King said.
“This idea that tourists are out drinking in Hamilton at 2am is not true, it’s just the locals who are out at that time.
“What I would like is bars closing at 2am so people are home by 3am and I’m sure we’d see a reduction in alcohol-related harm. I think the council should forget about mucking around with a one-way door policy.”
City councillor Rob Pascoe is open to suggestions about how the city could reduce booze-fuelled harm.
Clamping down on inner city bars and pubs isn’t necessarily the answer, he said.
A more effective way to reduce alcohol-related harm could be to limit people’s access to cheap alcohol sold via off licences.
“Bar owners have no control over preloading and I know more of that is happening out there. However, if we find bar owners around town aren’t doing as good a job as we thought they were, then we need to look at that too,” Pascoe said.
City councillor Leo Tooman said a one-way door policy would ease the mass exodus of patrons for bars and pubs at 3am.
The city council should have adopted a one-way door policy in 2015, he said.
“It’s pretty simple, the longer bars stay open, the more people will drink.”