Service trials alternative response for alcohol-related calls

With New Year’s Eve celebrations almost upon us, the London Ambulance Service is trialling an innovative new way of dealing with an increased number of alcohol-related incidents across the capital. 

The Service has dedicated a non-emergency Patient Transport Service vehicle for ambulance crews to request to transport patients who are suffering the effects of an excessive night out.

The trial is the brainchild of Paramedic Brian Hayes who works at Waterloo ambulance station. Explaining how the trial works, Brian said: “We are often called to people who are incapacitated through drinking, not because they are ill or injured but because friends or bystanders don’t know what else to do with them. Now when we reach patients and conduct our medical assessment, if we determine that the person is just a little worse for wear through drinking, we can call for this alternative response vehicle to transport them rather than automatically using an ambulance.”

He continued: “These are patients who will not benefit from being taken to hospital in a traditional ambulance, which is then not available to respond to patients in life-threatening situations. It also means our turnaround time to each incident is quicker, keeping more ambulances on the road for people who really need them.”

The trial vehicle is operating at Waterloo ambulance station serving London’s West End on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 7pm till 7am. So far, it has transported 12 patients to hospital, meaning that 12 ambulances have been kept on the road. It has already proved such a success that Deptford ambulance station employed a similar vehicle on Friday 16 December to meet demand on what is traditionally office party night.

The trial is seeing ambulance crews and paramedics in fast response cars dispatched to incidents where they carry out their medical assessments and provide any necessary treatment as usual. They can then decide whether a patient really needs to be transported in an emergency vehicle or whether they would be just as adequately served by this alternative response—which if appropriate, they can request by contacting the Service’s Emergency Operations Centre who will activate it.

The alternative response vehicle is staffed by a paramedic who carries life-saving equipment and is responsible for the welfare of the patients. He or she is accompanied by two ambulance persons, one to assist the paramedic and one to drive the vehicle.

Deputy Director of Operations Russell Smith said: “This is a very busy time of the year for us and the continued increase in emergency calls is putting extra strain on our service. When ambulance crews are attending minor alcohol-related incidents it makes it harder for us to reach those patients in life-threatening situations who really need our help. We won’t risk putting patients’ lives at risk and this alternative response gives us a new way of handling demand.”  

“We’re not against people having a good time, but with New Year’s Eve just a few days away we would appeal to the public to use the Service wisely so that we are available for those people who really need our help.

“Our priority is to attend patients with life-threatening or serious illnesses or injuries, the elderly and patients with chronic conditions. Callers with minor illnesses or injuries should think about using other healthcare options, for example, their local pharmacist or walk-in centre, or NHS direct. If people need to go to hospital for non-emergency treatment, they should use a taxi or get a lift with a friend of family member.”

The trial will be reviewed in January, with the potential for the vehicles to become a permanent feature across London in the New Year.

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