The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) will allocate up to £300,000 ($379,000) in extra funding for “drunk tanks” to treat intoxicated revelers around the holiday season.
The move comes amid rising concerns that emergency and public healthcare services could be overwhelmed by the number of drunk people seeking medical care around Christmas and New Year. “Drunk tanks,” otherwise known as Alcohol Intoxication Management Services (AIMS), are run in towns and cities across England by local councils, religious groups, charities, the NHS, or non-profits, usually in cooperation with local law enforcement and hospitals. The additional NHS funding will allow the “drunk tanks” to remain open during the entire holiday season in several locations like London, Southampton, and Blackpool.
AIMS facilities, which have also been nicknamed “Safe Havens” and “Booze Buses,” give drunk revelers a place to detox and get basic health checkups. People in more serious conditions are referred to hospitals.
“I have seen first-hand while out with ambulance crews in the run-up to last Christmas the problems that drunk and often aggressive people cause paramedics and A&E staff who just want to help those who need it most,” Simon Stevens, the executive director of the NHS, said in a statement. ”NHS does not stand for ‘National Hangover Service,’ which is why we want to help other organizations take care of those who just need somewhere safe to get checked over and perhaps sleep it off.”
Available evidence shows that while AIMS do reduce pressure on medical professionals and emergency services, there is no proof that they reduce excessive alcohol consumption. The NHS is conducting a study on their impact, which is set to come out next year.
Critics say that they do little to address the systemic issues that drive so many people to drink too much on weekends and over the holidays. In 2016-2017, 337,000 people were admitted to hospitals in England because of conditions related to alcohol, and while NHS spends £2.7 billion per year treating alcohol-related illnesses. An estimated 605,688 people in the UK are dependent on alcohol, according to research conducted for the House of Commons.
Ian Gilmore, chair of the non-profit advocacy group Alcohol Health Alliance, told the Guardian that drunk tanks ”are just a sticking plaster” that “do not address the root of the problem regarding the relationship we in the UK have as a society with alcohol.”