NHS to consider routine use of ‘drunk tanks’ to ease pressure on A&Es

NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens today announced that the NHS will decide this year whether “drunk tanks” should routinely be used take pressure off hard-pressed A&E departments and 999 ambulance services during the seasonal holiday period.

Supervised areas where revellers who have over-indulged can be checked and even sleep it off if necessary, rather than being taken to casualty, are already used in some areas such as Newcastle, Bristol, Manchester and Cardiff.

As thousands of party-goers prepare to see in the New Year this weekend, NHS England said that experience over this coming New Year would help determine whether the schemes would be rolled out to major towns and cities during 2018. Scaling up their use could help emergency services cope with seasonal pressures next year.

An estimated 12–15% of attendances at emergency departments in the UK are due to acute alcohol intoxication. This peaks on Friday and Saturday evenings, particularly at this time of year, when as many as 70% of attendances can be alcohol related.

Simon Stevens said the public need to use the NHS responsibly, particularly over New Year but also beyond: “When the health service is pulling out all the stops to care for sick and vulnerable patients who rightly and genuinely need our support, it’s frankly selfish when ambulance paramedics and A&E nurses have to be diverted to looking after revellers who have overindulged and who just need somewhere to safely to sleep it off.

“‘NHS’ doesn’t stand for ‘National Hangover Service’, but in the run up to Christmas, having been out with ambulance crews on night shifts in London and the West Midlands, I’ve seen first hand how paramedics and A&Es are being called on to deal with drunk and often aggressive people.”

The call follows a study currently being carried out by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) looking at whether Alcohol Intoxication Management Services (AIMS), or drunk tanks, should be rolled out as a way of managing intoxicated patients.

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