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.