How Bad Is London's Booze Problem?

By BethPH Last edited 40 months ago
How Bad Is London's Booze Problem?

Photo by Donklondon in the Londonist Flickr pool

Alcohol-related hospital admissions have nearly tripled in the last decade, according to a report released today by the GLA Conservatives.

The report, On The Wagon, claims that in 2013 the London Ambulance Service (LAS) spent over £16m treating alcohol-related incidents — 7% of all responses. The party calls for three new sobering centres and 10 booze buses, pointing out that the Soho Alcohol Recovery Centre (SARC) closed in 2013 due to a lack of funding, while the booze bus currently only operates seasonally.

Why has London become a city of boozers? The capital's culture of drinking is famed and we're not short of a pub or three, but the emergency services bear the brunt of booze-related call-outs. In December last year, Boris Johnson issued a plea to London's pre-Christmas injured inebriates to call a taxi to take them to A&E instead of dialling 999. We tend to think that for cabbies, picking up a drunk person ranks somewhere alongside a 1am request to go south of the river.

The London Fire Brigade asked us to get a takeaway instead of setting fire to the house heating up a pizza, while the LAS lists the top boroughs for alcohol-related 999 calls (Westminster, Lambeth, Camden, City and Hackney, and Southwark in case you were wondering). They've also identified increases in alcohol-related incidents — Croydon tops the list with a 9.4% increase on 2012/13, closely followed by Havering (9.1%), Hillingdon (9%), Sutton (8.4%) and Brent (8%). We'll let you draw your own inferences about those figures versus things to do in the boroughs — though the crisis at Croydon A&E recently looks like no coincidence.

If you think the idea of more sobering centres sounds vaguely familiar, that's because it is. In 2013, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) called for privately-run 'drunk tanks' to reduce the numbers of people sleeping it off in the cells overnight. The police estimate the cost of an overnight stay to be £385, while an ambulance costs around £250. By contrast, a visit to a re-opened SARC would cost £40 so we can see the appeal in an era of cost-cutting.

The party also calls for the fine for disorderly behaviour to be increased from £90 to £180 as a deterrent. While no-one likes a vomity aggressive drunk, the danger of increasing fines and privately-run sobering centres is that it could end up targeting those least able to pay and in need of a different kind of help. Homelessness charity St Mungo's Broadway estimated that 64% of people rough sleeping in London had issues with alcohol and drugs.

It's worth noting too that people in need of a booze bus or sobering centre would have to be brought to one by police or ambulance crews so there's still a cost implication to the emergency services. Conservative AM Andrew Boff said:

“We need to urgently reduce needless admissions if we are to relieve the current pressure on London’s A&E departments. Recovery centres provide a place for the intoxicated to sober-up, and booze buses help treat drunken patients on-the-go, both allowing these patients to avoid emergency departments altogether, if they have no other medical complications."

The GLA Conservatives will propose the new sobering centres and booze buses at today's London Assembly Health Committee meeting at City Hall.

Last Updated 14 January 2015

Greg Tingey

WHat utter rubbish (or maybe not)
We are still at the position famously drawn by Hoarth:
GIn Alley & Beer Street.
Most of those falling down are on strong liquors, in quite large quantities.
MORE BEER ( & less Gin or Vodka) is the answer.
As for the vile neo-puiritans condemning all achohol, I suggest they go to a country where such substances are forbidden & don't come back


The demise of good ecstasy is to blame.


It's Boris, David, George and Nick driving us Londoners to drink.


I love a glass of wine and even something stronger from time to time but have never understood the British obsession to get falling down drunk at every possible opportunity. Yeap - I'm an ex pat (London born and bred) and have been living in The Netherlands for nigh on 36 years so am allowed to berate my fellow country men and women for their absolute stupidity where alcohol is concerned. Have you folk NO conception of what you are asking your internal organs to put up with let alone your brains? I think I'd find a system so that drink related emergencies should be paid for by the person concerned or a member of their family BEFORE any form of assistance is given. If they can afford to buy the alcohol and pour it down their throats, then they can afford to pay for others to clean up their mess both bodily and mentally.
And why berate Boris, David, George and Nick or blame 'good' ecstasy? Two more stupids to add to the ever growing list!!!


It's now a legal obligation for wine to be available in measures of 125 ml, but try finding many bars / restaurants that explicitly offer this rather than only on request. If a mixed drinking group is out, then the wine drinkers wind up on 175 ml (or bigger glasses), which means that per round they have a bottle of wine for every 4 rounds. And if you throw in a "I was feeling kind, so I got you a large [250 ml] one" element, that's every 3, which is easily done between leaving work and going home. God help you if you stay out for longer.

Add in the increased strength of wine ABV over the last couple of decades (now easily 13% or more in the more usually available New World wines), and it's clear that the increased popularity of wine is part of the problem, especially for women.

OF COURSE most of the answer is drinker awareness & responsibility. But please could the on-trade help out a bit by making it easier to buy the smaller volumes, and at a pro rata cost?