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NHS funds festive 'drunk tanks'

Supervised areas hope to take pressure off 999 and hospital services

Mark Gould

Monday, 24 December 2018

NHS England has made £300,000 available to help fund ‘drunk tanks’ to take the pressure off hospital and 999 services over Christmas and New Year.

These are supervised areas where revellers who have over-indulged can be checked over and even sleep it off, rather than being taken to casualty or monitored by the police. Some are already used in areas including Exeter, Hereford, Norwich and Blackpool.

Currently five ambulance trusts in the North East, East Midlands, South Central, West Midlands and North West have applied for funding, as well as a scheme in Soho in central London. Each ambulance service is proposing to use the extra funding to cover various additional locations and enhanced hours within their regions.

There have been a number of schemes used around the UK to help deal with alcohol related attendances. They range from council funded ‘Safe Havens’ to ‘Booze Buses’.

In Bristol the Mobile Treatment Centre, or MTC, will again be run by the South Western Ambulance Service, which will be deploying its teams on the busy nights in the run up to Christmas. They will also be operational on New Year’s Eve.

One of the first programmes to benefit from NHS England funding will be Soho Angels scheme in London, where Westminster City Council and the LGBT Foundation are partnering to ensure that everyone gets home safely from the West End this festive season. St John Ambulance, Drinkaware, Metropolitan Police, London Ambulance Service and Safer West End are all partnering with the initiative to help deliver the project.

In Exeter, a scheme involving Exeter Community Safety Partnership saw local health and council services team up with Street Pastors and the St John Ambulance.

The South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) is again running its SOS Service in Oxford using a dedicated jumbulance, or large ambulance. The service, which has been running since 2014, provides extra medical provision in the city centre on Fridays and Saturdays and will again operate on New Year’s Eve, reducing 999 responses and the number of patients going to A&E for alcohol related incidents.

Craig Heigold, paramedic team leader at SCAS and Oxford SOS Project lead, said: “The SOS Project provides a valuable service at a time of peak demand for all local NHS and emergency services in Oxford city centre. By doing so we can reduce the demand on our colleagues at A&E, as well as ensure that more Oxfordshire SCAS staff and vehicles are free to respond to non-alcohol related illnesses and injuries elsewhere in the city and surrounding areas. We can also provide a faster and more effective response to patients in the city centre who need us.”

A study into the benefits of NHS-operated “Alcohol Intoxication Management Services” (AIMS) will not report until 2019. However, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said that ‘drunk tanks’ run by charities, councils and voluntary groups can take pressure off paramedics, nurses and doctors during the busy party season.

Mr Stevens said: “I have seen first-hand while out with ambulance crews in the run-up to last Christmas the problems that drunk and often aggressive people cause paramedics and A&E staff who just want to help those who need it most.

“NHS does not stand for ‘National Hangover Service’ which is why we want to help other organisations take care of those who just need somewhere safe to get checked over and perhaps sleep it off.”

Mr Stevens also urged local authorities to make more use of the ‘late night levy’ which they can impose on bars and clubs to put on safe spaces for revellers.

An estimated 12% to15% of attendances at emergency departments in the UK are due to acute alcohol intoxication. This peaks on Friday and Saturday evenings when as many as 70% of attendances can be alcohol-related.

The NHS England initiative comes as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) prepare to publish their findings into AIMS. The results will help decide whether these services are supported on a more routine basis.

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