Binge drinking is exacting such a heavy cost to the National Health Service that chiefs are considering creating “drunk tanks” in city centres across the country.
Used as a first response facility for people who are drunk but not seriously ill, the alcohol recovery centres are designed to take the strain off an NHS overburdened by patients who have overindulged on alcohol.
Intoxication currently accounts for 12-15% of all A&E attendance in England, the NHS believes, and on weekend nights during the festive period the number could rise to 70%,
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said “NHS doesn’t stand for ‘National Hangover Service'”, and criticised “selfish” partygoers.
“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 sleep it off,” he said.
“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.”
Newcastle, Bristol and Cardiff already use the facilities, where drinkers are able to sleep off their overindulgence after being checked on by health professionals.
In Cardiff, the Alcohol Treatment Centre in the city centre is staffed by nurses, a paramedic and a police officer, with leadership from a senior A&E nurse.
In Newcastle the ambulance services and police run a “safe haven” service on Friday and Saturday nights over the Christmas period, attending to alcohol related incidents with a rapid response vehicle.
The National Institute for Health Research is currently carrying out a study into the ways that Alcohol Intoxication Management Services can be rolled out to help patients who are drinking too much.
The idea, however, does not have universal support.
“International experience on drunk tanks is that the acute setting, maybe the monitoring, isn’t as long enough as we need,” emergency services doctor Kishan Rees told Sky News.
“What we can’t have is a culture where we just chuck people into a drunk tank sober them up and let them go back into society and have the same problems and things.”