A new £1.1 million study led by the University of Stirling is seeking to understand recent changes in opening hours for bars and nightclubs, and how these changes impact health, crime levels, and emergency services in Scotland.
In the UK alone, ambulance callouts due to alcohol are estimated at more than 171,000 annually, costing around £52 million.
Funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health programme, the project will focus on Aberdeen and Glasgow – where, prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, some premises had their licenses extended. The study will run for three years.
It will be the first study in the UK to look at how opening hours affect ambulance callouts and crimes, alongside an exploration of the impact on public services and business operations. The study will inform future premises licensing decisions, policies and laws in the UK and internationally.
Professor Niamh Fitzgerald, Director of the Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH) at the University of Stirling, specialises in alcohol policy and is the study’s Principal Investigator.
“Our study aims to understand and assess the impact of later opening hours on harms caused by alcohol, services and costs in Aberdeen and Glasgow, including for specific groups, and the implications for other UK cities if similar changes were introduced. We will also seek to understand local experiences of changes in bar/pub opening hours during the COVID-19 pandemic, and any lasting impact of changes such as curfews and takeaway sales.”
The project will build upon previous studies in Norway, Amsterdam and Australia that found that even opening an hour later after midnight led to significantly more assaults or alcohol-related ambulance callouts.
Currently in the UK, councils control opening hours through the licensing system. This is the reason why many cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow have differing closing times in pubs and clubs.
In Aberdeen, from late 2018, around 30 premises that previously closed at 1am were permitted to close later, some up to 3am. In Glasgow, from May 2019, 10 nightclubs were allowed to change their closing time from 3am to 4am.
In both cases, health professionals were unable to call upon robust UK evidence to inform their response to the changes. Results from this study could help these decisions be based on evidence that illustrates how licensing affects the emergency services in the future.
Professor Fitzgerald added: “Our research will be the most methodologically robust and in-depth study of additional late night alcohol availability in the UK to date, informed by systems thinking.
By using a variety of research methods and drawing on the multi-disciplinary expertise of our team, we are ideally positioned to adapt the study to capture and respond to changes in thinking and policy around licensed premises post-COVID-19, supported by an excellent study steering committee.
The findings will be useful to police and health services, local authority licensing teams and politicians and devolved and national governments, as well as communities and premises owners, in the UK and internationally.”
Featured Image Credit: University of Stirling