Alcohol abuse by patients is the primary cause of nurses and other hospital staff being punched, bashed and verbally abused, according to those who are forced to deal with it every day.
Documents obtained by the ABC this week under Right to Information show in the three years to June, there were 2,695 assaults reported at just four Queensland hospitals.
The Princess Alexandra (PA) Hospital recorded the highest number with 831 assaults in that period, 641 were reported at Cairns Hospital, 636 at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (RBWH) and 587 at Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH).
"Alcohol is by far our biggest ongoing problem," said Dr Carl Dux, emergency physician at the PA.
"We've had issues with people breaking out of the hospital being tackled and fighting with security guards in front of the entire waiting room patients and hurting security guards, and it's a very traumatic thing for members of the public to see when they're already sick coming here for our care," he said.
Dr Dux said sedating or chemically restraining patients happened every day, sometimes every hour.
Beth Mohle from the Queensland Nurses Union said alcohol abuse was a far greater factor in hospital assaults than ice.
"[Ice] pales into insignificance compared to the people that present themselves to emergency departments intoxicated and violent as a result of alcohol abuse," she said.
"Our members are regularly verbally and physically abused, spat at, punched and the like."
Violent hospital assaults 'opportunistic'
Professor Anthony Shakeshaft from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre is preparing a study into the link between alcohol and presentations at hospital emergency departments.
He said most alcohol-related assaults in hospitals were opportunistic.
"It is true that people with a predilection for violence are more likely on an individual basis to get involved in alcohol-related assaults," he said.
"But the bulk of it probably is opportunistic violence, so people do get involved in things when they otherwise wouldn't be once they start drinking."
Ms Mohle said the issue of patient violence had fallen off the public radar.
"Over a decade ago, we had a zero tolerance for violence against nurses campaign which was successful in certainly stemming the tide, if you like, and we saw a lot of really great aggressive behaviour management training start up as a result," she said.
"But in recent years we've seen a lack of focus on this issue."
Alcohol abuse a societal issue
Dr Dux said the cycle of alcohol binging and associated violence would continue unless there were drastic changes at a societal level.
"Unless something changes we're just going to get the next generation doing exactly what this generation does now," he said.
"Personally, I think we've been manipulated to thinking that drinking is part of our culture by subversive advertising and we haven't done anything to stop that.
"People think it's un-Australian if you don't partake in binge drinking and get loose.
"We have a societal problem. I don't think we can address it with one change in emergency. We need to address this all through society."