Calls to charge drunken patients for their care at A&E departments would not be supported at York Hospital.

Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland’s health minister warned he is considering charging patients who turn up drunk or high on drugs to emergency wards.

He believes the free healthcare system is being abused and has lead to local hospitals missing their targets for treating patients 700 times.

York Hospital has recently been inundated with cases of patients being drunk after various events in the city, leading to tougher working conditions, and an increase in attacks on staff, according to a study by Dr Gillian Kelly, a former member of staff at the hospital.

Although the report found the number of alcohol-related overnight admissions fell by more than a quarter between 2011 and 2013/14, at the same time, the number of recorded head and face assaults rose by 60 per cent.

However, the figures were not enough to go against one of the main NHS principles that the care meets the needs of everyone.

Mr Mike Williams, consultant in Emergency Medicine at York Hospital, said: “One of the principles of the NHS is that services are free of charge at the point of delivery, and this is something we support.

"Whilst it is clear that alcohol has an impact on the emergency department, our staff treat patients on the basis of their clinical need, and are not in a position to make judgements regarding entitlement to care or how much a patient should be charged if they have had alcohol or drugs.

"We would of course encourage people to be responsible when drinking, and to only attend the emergency department if they have a genuine emergency, but we are here to provide treatment for those who need it regardless of the cause.”