Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers will play a key role in a new £1.1 million study investigating the impact recent changes in bars and nightclub opening hours has on Scotland’s emergency services, crime levels and health.

The project, led by the University of Stirling and funded by the National Institute for Health Research Public Health programme, will focus on Glasgow and Aberdeen – where, prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, some premises had their licenses extended. 

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.

In the UK alone, ambulance callouts due to alcohol are estimated at more than 171,000 annually, costing around £52 million.

Councils control opening hours through the licensing system. Premises were granted later hours under specific licensing conditions designed to minimise any potential for increased harm arising from the additional hour(s) of alcohol sales.

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.

The project, ‘Evaluating later or expanded premises hours for alcohol in the night-time economy’ (ELEPHANT), 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.

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.

GCU’s Substance Use research group, led by Professor Carol Emslie, will play a key role in the three-year study and is “delighted” to be involved in such a high profile and important piece of research.

Professor Emslie, co-investigator in the study, explained: “This is the first UK study to explore how changes in the opening hours of pubs and clubs impact on health, crime and ambulance callouts. The GCU Substance Use research group will lead research into what happens when bars and nightclubs use late night opening hours, examining how venues operate, who is at the venue and any changes in drinking.

“The study will also examine experiences of changes in bar and pub opening hours during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are delighted to be working with Professor Niamh Fitzgerald from the University of Stirling, and other academic colleagues on this project, and with partners at Alcohol Focus Scotland, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the Scottish Ambulance Service.”

Other co-investigators include Professor Emma McIntosh and Professor Jim Lewsey (both of the University of Glasgow); Colin Angus (University of Sheffield); Elaina Smith (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde); Dr Andrea Mohan (University of Dundee); and Dr David Fitzpatrick (Scottish Ambulance Service). Additional support will be provided by Aidan Collins at Alcohol Focus Scotland.

Professor Fitzgerald said: “International evidence suggests that late night alcohol sales are associated with increased rates of assaults, injuries and disorder. However, there are no UK studies looking at how opening hours affect ambulance callouts, or how they lead to changes in business practices, policing, health services and wider economic costs.

“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.”