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‘Tis the season to be careful

Saturday, 31st December, 2011

PEAK TIME: Medical Director of the hospital’s emergency department, Dr Andrew Olesnicky, expects a busy time over the New Year. PEAK TIME: Medical Director of the hospital’s emergency department, Dr Andrew Olesnicky, expects a busy time over the New Year.

By Paula Doran

 Australians are more likely to wind up in hospital emergency departments (ED) at Christmas and New Year, according to the experts.

As many of us count down to New Year’s festivities, like most EDs around the country, Broken Hill Health Service emergency staff will be building up to another busy one.

Latest research by Associate Professor Paul Middleton has found visits to hospital emergency departments increase by around nine per cent during the summer holidays.  

“While around a third of this increase in emergency department visits can be explained by patients visiting hospitals while their GPs are closed over the holiday, the other two thirds of the increase are due to a higher likelihood of accident, injury and heart attack at this time of year,” he said.

Professor Middleton cites the Molly Meldrum-style injury as one that’s common on the triage list during festive emergency peak hours.  

“Emergency doctors see an influx of fall injuries among men who ascend to various heights around the home to clear gutters or do the painting in a fit of youthful enthusiasm, or to place the fairy on the top of the Christmas tree...”

But it’s not just misfired vigor that can cause a quick dash to the ED. Drowning remains a real risk over the holiday period. January is historically the month with the highest number of deaths in this area, one third of which are alcohol related.

Professor Middleton also warns of the increased likelihood of heart attacks during the merry season - one study describing the prevalence of death by heart attack as the “Happy New Year Heart Attack.”

“Excessive celebration may be an important factor in this,” he says.  

“Excess food and alcohol intake, increased emotional and psychological stress over the holiday period and a reluctance to go to hospital during holidays are likely to be contributing factors to this increase in heart attack.”

And now that we’ve painted an horrendous picture, warning against the ills of over-indulgence and uncharacteristic enthusiasm, what does the head of Broken Hill’s ED think of all this?

Dr Andrew Olesnicky concurs but adds it’s not just specific medical problems that commonly increase over Christmas/New Year but social problems as well. 

“We do see a rise in a whole spectrum of medical issues.

“This time of year there is a general lack of allied health support, so the emergency department is the first place where these people can access help.”

Dr Olesnicky said the best advice was to seek medical help immediately, rather than ignoring any health issue. But he warned there could be a long wait.

*Health Direct has a 24-hour health advice line: 1800 022 222

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