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by GK Strategy 3rd January, 2018
3 min read

Drunk Tanks – an innovative approach to tackling drunken behaviour, or a shrewd PR move?

Over the Christmas period, there was much discussion about Simon Steven’s comments that the NHS was not the ‘National Hangover Service’, as he announced that he would be looking at the effectiveness of drunk tanks in helping to tackle the problem of admissions to A&E as a result of alcohol.

Drunk tanks are not a new idea; there are already 16 that exist in the UK, including in Newcastle, Cardiff and Bristol.

The first mobile drunk tank was launched in Bristol three years ago, as a joint venture between the police, ambulance service and hospitals. Essentially an articulated lorry that has been converted into a treatment centre, there are paramedics on hand to deal with those who are intoxicated.

It is no secret that the NHS is suffering huge financial pressures – with hospitals forced to delay tens of thousands of non-urgent operations this winter. With up to 70% of A&E admissions on Friday and Saturday nights being alcohol related, it seems timely to consider some innovative approaches to tackling this problem.

Proponents of the drunk tank model suggest that it reduces the numbers of individuals presenting at A&E, with the consequent benefits of providing a safer, more welcoming environment for those who are in genuine medical need and waiting in an admissions room.

But detractors note the risks of non-identification of medical conditions which are masked by alcohol, or increasing the risks for those working at drunk tanks with a concentration of intoxicated individuals in one place.

Debate however inevitably turns to who should pay for such a service.

The NHS and the police service, as is the case in Bristol is one way to go, although the alternative of seeking contributions from the clubs and bars who are selling alcohol, and the supermarkets with their promotions for cheap alcohol is definitely one that should be considered.

Or, as is increasingly thrown into the debate, and happens in other parts of the world such as Poland, should individuals have to pay when they have been users of the service?

Going down this route may prove to be a slippery slope however. We pride ourselves on the fact that the NHS is free at the point of use, and if we are to begin to charge for being intoxicated, does this give licence to begin charging for other health conditions such as obesity, or conditions relating to smoking?

Throughout history it has been said that prevention is better than cure, and in times of increasing financial constraint, perhaps we need to look at ways of preventing the need for individuals to present at A&E in the first place.

Instead then, were Simon Steven’s comments a clever move to help start afresh a conversation about alcohol and the impact it is having on society, with no intention of drunk tanks becoming the norm, but instead the threat of what might happen if we do not get this issue under control?

If this is the case, it was a shrewd move.

It should not be on the shoulders of the NHS alone to solve this problem. The net should be widened to include local authorities who have public health budgets, drinks companies, bars and clubs, and supermarkets among others.

Perhaps by bringing everyone around the table there can be new solutions conceived which will help reduce the pressure on the NHS without having to fund an alternative service, and at the same time, increase the health of society.

To find out more about how GK can help your organisation engage with the NHS, contact Rebecca@gkstrategy.com 

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