Health: Booze emergency for ambulance service

MORE than half of the calls taken by the ambulance service on a weekend night are linked to alcohol.

Paramedic Andy Hughes knows that only too well, having worked on many a Friday and Saturday answering calls to patients in Leeds city centre.

Andy, who is based at Leeds Ambulance Station, said the most common reason they are called is when people are unresponsive through having drunk too much or those who get into fights.

How does alcohol make treating patients more difficult?

"It's the irrationality," Mr Hughes said.

"You're trying to explain to the patient but their friends all want to get involved. They all want to tell you a story.

"People just open the doors of the ambulance and walk in."

The effects of alcohol can mean patients' behavior is not only unpredictable, but they may not be in a fit state to take decisions for themselves.

Then there are those who are drunk rather than in need of medical attention, and simply need a place of safety.

Much worse are the drink-fuelled incidents which have left patients fighting for their lives.

"The wrong guy in the wrong place, one punch and he's fallen on the floor and ended up in neuro ICU (intensive care unit)."

Over the 11 years he's been in the job, he thinks more people are drinking to excess, and more often.

"What worries me is almost the absence of responsibility for many individuals.

"It's 'I want to get drunk and I want to have a good time."

What they don't consider is whilst Mr Hughes and his colleagues are dealing with incidents caused by excess booze, other seriously ill patients could be in need of help.

That was graphically illustrated to him when he was responding to a call in the city centre but another paramedic needed immediate back-up – but he was unable to go.

"There are other patients than drunks on a Friday and Saturday night. It does impact on resources."

Dan Gore, Yorkshire Ambulance Service's assistant director of accident and emergency operations for the Leeds and Wakefield area, said: "There will be calls to people having heart attacks, fitting, pregnant women.

"Although we try and match the resources to the demand of a typical city centre night, it's very difficult to do that."

He said people may have a minor incident, but because of alcohol affecting their judgement, they think it's a major injury and call 999.

Then there are the issues of trying to treat patients while surrounded by drunk revellers.

"People in the vicinity think they know better than you do and that gives us a real problem, particularly if it's someone like myself that would respond on my own in a car.

"It's difficult to say when you are on your own 'can you go away?'"

Even driving an ambulance vehicle through the city centre at

night can cause problems.

"I was driving to emergencies on New Year's Eve and people were so drunk they thought it was funny to run out at the car," Mr Gore said.

An increasing tendency for people to drink at home while they get ready to go out has made things worse.

The number of emergency calls continue to increase - and Mr Gore says tackling excess boozing could combat this.

"Demand for the ambulance service is increasing year on year.

"What we need to find in the ambulance service is the one thing we can do to drive our demand down.

"One thing I always come back to is the reduction in calls related to alcohol or drugs."

Louise Barnes with her son Daniel. Picture: L. Barnes

Harrogate's "one opportunity" to say on mental health services