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General Observations: Drunk Tanks

'Drunk Tanks' are big news at the moment, but are they addressing the bigger issues with alcohol consumption in the UK? Do they help hospitals? Check out blogger Alastair's thoughts...

Shockingly, up to 70% of A&E admissions on a Friday and Saturday night are alcohol-related. Intoxicated patients are vulnerable, so they often need significant levels of staff supervision and a bed to keep them safe while they sober up. However, admissions of drunk patients strain hospital resources and can present problems for other patients and members of staff.

To cope with the anticipated increase in drinking-related hospital admissions during the recent Christmas period, the government made an extra £300,000 available for the provision of "alcohol welfare centres". This money was allocated to reinforce the existing presence of more than 16 mobile units in some of the UK's busiest city centres throughout the year. More commonly known as "Booze Buses" or “Drunk Tanks”, these centres are being used to reduce the pressure put on police and hospitals by public drunkenness at the weekend. They aim to deliver a medical assessment and care that police are not necessarily trained to provide, whilst leaving emergency service personnel free to deal with the most urgent situations that arise. That said, people who have sustained injuries will likely still have to go to A&E for investigation and treatment.

These centres can be found scattered across other Northern European countries, but are quite a recent addition in the UK (though police and hospital chiefs have been calling for their creation for some time). There is also considerable public pressure for welfare centres to run privately, by passing on the costs to the service users rather than using NHS funding. Police leaders have supported this idea, saying that they should act as a deterrent to reckless behaviour by charging around £400 for a night’s stay, with the possibility of an additional £80 fixed penalty notice if drunk and disorderly behaviour was the reason someone was directed to the service.

Statistics from 2013 show that alcohol-related crime costs the UK £11bn per year, of which £2.7bn comes from the NHS alone, and some feel that offenders need to repay some of the cost of their revelry. Conversely, other commentators feel that it’s unfair to punish individuals for the problems that exist within our society. In an entertaining article for the Independent, comedian and columnist Shappi Khorsandi quips: “We live in a culture where, if you turn up for work on a Monday morning and announce you are still suffering from Saturday night’s hangover… chances are your colleagues will smile indulgently, and praise your impressive disregard for your own health and other people’s property.”

There have been several public health successes in recent years: the smoking ban has dramatically improved the nation’s health, and the sugar tax has driven many food and drink producers to reduce the refined sugar in their products. Are drunk tanks funded by those who use the service the answer to healing the nation’s half-cut attitude towards binge drinking?

Guest Blog: Alastair Coulson, 20.01.2019


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