NHS funds ‘drunk tanks’ to ease Christmas pressure on A&E and 999

NHS England will help fund so-called ‘drunk tanks’ to take the pressure off hospital and 999 services over Christmas and New Year, chief executive Simon Stevens announced today.

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, are already used in some areas including Exeter, Hereford, Norwich and Blackpool.

A study into the benefits of NHS-operated “Alcohol Intoxication Management Services” (AIMS) will not report until 2019. However, 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.

NHS England will make up to £300,000 available over the festive period to fund dozens of services including one in London’s Soho which will now open for additional days over the festive period.

Simon 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.”

The NHS chief executive 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 Alcohol Intoxication Management Services (AIMS). The results will help decide whether these services are supported on a more routine basis.

Currently five ambulance trusts in the North East, East Midlands, South Central, West Midlands and North West have applied for funding, as well as the Soho scheme.

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 Friday and Saturday nights in the run up to Christmas – including so-called ‘Black Friday’ or the last Friday before Christmas – when many of the office parties are in full swing. 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.

Last year the SOS team saw 63 patients, compared with just 18 for same early November to early January period in 2016-17. Of these, only 14 required further treatment and/or assessment at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

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.”

The SOS Service is staffed by two SCAS paramedics, along with an emergency care assistant or associate ambulance practitioner, as well as the valuable support from local community first responders.

SCAS is also involved with the First Stop Service which is a night time urgent care, health and wellbeing service being operated from St Mary’s Church in Reading town centre on Friday and Saturday nights. Paramedics provide urgent medical services alongside volunteers providing first aid and support to those who may need it. Security is provided by Thames Valley Police.

The multi-agency project has become an intrinsic element in the town centre keeping people safe, away from A&E and helps tackle the negative effects of excessive drinking and associated medical needs.