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NHS England reveals funding for more ‘drunk tanks’ over festive period

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More so-called “drunk tanks” will be set up around England to take the pressure off hospital and 999 services over Christmas and New Year, it has been announced.

NHS England said it would make up to £300,000 available over Christmas and New Year to fund the supervised areas for Christmas revellers who have over-indulged.

“I have seen first-hand the problems that drunk and often aggressive people cause paramedics and A&E staff”

Simon Stevens

The drunk tanks will provide a space where party-goers can be checked over and even sleep it off to take the pressure off nurses, paramedics and doctors over the busy party season, said NHS England.

Instead of going to emergency departments or being watched by the police, those who have over-indulged will be looked after by charities, councils and voluntary groups who run the drunk tanks.

Such initiatives are already being used in some areas across the country including Exeter, Hereford, Norwich and Blackpool, noted NHS England.

The new funds will help to support dozens more of the services including one in London’s Soho, which will now open for additional days over the Christmas period, said the national body.

The Soho Angels scheme will be one of the first to benefit from the funding, where a range of local council, charity and NHS organisations are all partnering to help deliver the project.

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, noted NHS England.

A number of different types of scheme are being used around the UK to help deal with alcohol related attendances- ranging from council funded “Safe Havens” to “Booze Buses”.

The South Central Ambulance Service is again running its SOS Service in Oxford using a dedicated “jumbulance”, or large ambulance to provide extra medical provision in the city centre at weekends.

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 hospital treatment or assessment.

Meanwhile, a Mobile Treatment Centre in Bristol will again by run by the South Western Ambulance Service, to deploy teams on the busy Friday and Saturday nights in the run up to Christmas.

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens

NHS England chief executive 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,” he added.

Mr Stevens has 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.

According to NHS England, an estimated 12% to 15% of attendances at emergency departments in the UK are due to acute alcohol intoxication.

It highlighted that this peaks on Friday and Saturday evenings when as many as 70% of attendances can be alcohol related.

The drunk tank initiative comes as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) prepare to publish their findings into Alcohol Intoxication Management Services (AIMS).

NHS England said the results, due in a report in 2019, will help decide whether these services are supported on a more routine basis.

“We are urging government to enact legislation as soon as possible”

Ian Hudspeth

Ian Hudspeth, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, noted that many councils already funded “safe spaces” for those who were intoxicated.

He also acknowledged that the late-night levy was a “useful tool” that can be used by councils to provide funding to keep the night-time economy safe.

“However, the requirement to apply the levy to late night businesses across the whole of a local authority area, rather than just a specific part of the area, has limited its use among councils,” he said.

“We are urging government to enact legislation as soon as possible which enables councils to define specific parts of their areas that the levy should apply to, which stands to increase its use,” he said.

He added: “To help support councils take more pressure off the NHS, government needs to reverse cuts to councils’ public health funding.”

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