The Booze Bus

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.

12 responses to “The Booze Bus

  1. “How do pubs and bars let them get this bad?”

    Licensing laws aren’t enforced. I guess the Police and Magistrates feel that to do so would be collective punishment. The Police especially don’t like that because it would alienate them from the community.
    What I find hard to understand is why Pub/Club/Bar owners want totally paralitic people on their premises. I know it’s not always easy to know what is going on during the evening/night. I think it boils down to bouncers and other staff being more proactive before people get into difficulty.

  2. “How do pubs and bars let them get this bad?”

    Licensing laws aren’t enforced. I guess the Police and Magistrates feel that to do so would be collective punishment. The Police especially don’t like that because it would alienate them from the community.
    What I find hard to understand is why Pub/Club/Bar owners want totally paralitic people on their premises. I know it’s not always easy to know what is going on during the evening/night. I think it boils down to bouncers and other staff being more proactive before people get into difficulty.

  3. Well I’m glad IDS is proposing a minimum of 40p to the unit of alcohol when I read of this and your weekend “head kicked in like a football” stories.

  4. Well I’m glad IDS is proposing a minimum of 40p to the unit of alcohol when I read of this and your weekend “head kicked in like a football” stories.

  5. How is enforcing licensing laws collective punishment?

    The problem is more about the large chains having more legal firepower than local authorities (magistrates don’t issue licences anymore) and the LAs can’t afford to fight them.

    Why do bar managers (and it is managers rather than owner landlords) want paralytic people? They don’t. But if they time it right they’ll get the money off them and chuck on the street ready for the Booze Bus to pick them up.

    [Nice irony – the captcha word is gomerry

  6. How is enforcing licensing laws collective punishment?

    The problem is more about the large chains having more legal firepower than local authorities (magistrates don’t issue licences anymore) and the LAs can’t afford to fight them.

    Why do bar managers (and it is managers rather than owner landlords) want paralytic people? They don’t. But if they time it right they’ll get the money off them and chuck on the street ready for the Booze Bus to pick them up.

    [Nice irony – the captcha word is gomerry

  7. It is sad that people let themselves get this drunk. As a student, I have seen several of my friends get into this sort of state and in one incident been the sober individual with the common sense to call for help.

    Our route was slightly different – I called NHS direct for advice on dealing with paralytic drunks, then when the friend stopped giving basic responses (“what is your name”) was told to wait for an ambulance.

    I digress. It is a fantastic idea to have this “booze bus” travelling the streets of London. I do hope that it is having a positive effect on the number of patients waiting in the A&Es and the way paramedics are able to deal with drunks, freeing up places in hospitals one assumes.

    I have not been in London for a while having recently moved to Aberdeen, but don't most places refuse to serve drunks now? I know up north we don't care… they're Scots, they're always drunk… but it is irresponsible of pubs/clubs/bars to sell alcohol to those that are clearly inebriated beyond their capacity and are beginning to cause damage to their health.

    It's nice to hear you're doing some good work, James. Especially on the youth issues – this is something I'm sure your Bexley Council colleagues will tell you that the local Youth Council (of which I was a member in 2007) campaigned for: greater responses and sensitivity to largely youth-oriented issues but aiming for a positive impact on the wider community.

    In general though, you are proving to us that localised government can work. This is most definitely the purpose to which you were elected – fixing Ken’s London.

  8. It is sad that people let themselves get this drunk. As a student, I have seen several of my friends get into this sort of state and in one incident been the sober individual with the common sense to call for help.

    Our route was slightly different – I called NHS direct for advice on dealing with paralytic drunks, then when the friend stopped giving basic responses (“what is your name”) was told to wait for an ambulance.

    I digress. It is a fantastic idea to have this “booze bus” travelling the streets of London. I do hope that it is having a positive effect on the number of patients waiting in the A&Es and the way paramedics are able to deal with drunks, freeing up places in hospitals one assumes.

    I have not been in London for a while having recently moved to Aberdeen, but don't most places refuse to serve drunks now? I know up north we don't care… they're Scots, they're always drunk… but it is irresponsible of pubs/clubs/bars to sell alcohol to those that are clearly inebriated beyond their capacity and are beginning to cause damage to their health.

    It's nice to hear you're doing some good work, James. Especially on the youth issues – this is something I'm sure your Bexley Council colleagues will tell you that the local Youth Council (of which I was a member in 2007) campaigned for: greater responses and sensitivity to largely youth-oriented issues but aiming for a positive impact on the wider community.

    In general though, you are proving to us that localised government can work. This is most definitely the purpose to which you were elected – fixing Ken’s London.

  9. rights = responsibilities. it seems most people of certain ages / socia economic domgraphics have forgoten this.

    Simply put they should be left where they fall. The got themselves into the mess, once presumes they took precautions to get themselves out of it. It’s not by accident they are left paralytic in the gutter, it is by choice.
    We simply can’t afford the extra cost.

    Rghts = responsibilities!!

  10. rights = responsibilities. it seems most people of certain ages / socia economic domgraphics have forgoten this.

    Simply put they should be left where they fall. The got themselves into the mess, once presumes they took precautions to get themselves out of it. It’s not by accident they are left paralytic in the gutter, it is by choice.
    We simply can’t afford the extra cost.

    Rghts = responsibilities!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s