On Friday night I went up to Waterloo to spend the evening with people too drunk to walk, talk or control their bodily fluids.
I'm the Chairman of the London Assembly's Health & Public Services Committee and we are near the completion of a major investigation into youth drinking. We are looking both at underage drinking and binge drinking. My night out was part of that investigation.
The London Ambulance Service spends a great deal of it's time ferrying people who are dangerously drunk to hospital. On weekends, particularly in the summer months, this ties up a huge proportion of its assets, the Booze Bus is a way to deal with this situation.
The bus is in fact and ambulance and the initial part of the care/treatment is performed by paramedics on board. Rather than picking up one person, taking them to hospital and then returning to pick up another, the Booze Bus has room for up to five people and the wait until they are full before taking anyone in. It doesn't take long to fill up.
I had planned to join the team at 11.00PM, but had to wait because they were already taking their first bus load in. By the time I got in at 11.20 they had another two people, comatose with big sick bags around their necks and intravenous drips giving them the fluids lost through vomiting. Not a pretty sight.
Half an hour later we had two more people and were heading to UCL Hospital. The triage nurse wasn't too pleased with the arrival of four people so drunk they couldn't open their eyes or respond to stimulus.
Chatting to the ambulance staff in the A&E it is clear that there is a lot of frustration about this situation. "How do pubs and bars let them get this bad?", "Why aren't we allowed to send the the bill?", "Why can't we just take them to a central drunk treatment centre rather than tie up A&E beds?" were three questions which came up an number of times.
A couple more ferry trips later and it was 3.00AM on Saturday and I had to head off home. "just half a shift then?" they joked as they explained that 3.00-6.00AM was their busy time!
My night was a real eye opener and I would like to that Brian Hayes (who you can see on the video above) of the London Ambulance Service for setting up the night and to the booze bus team for putting up with me and doing the job that they do.
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