Page last updated at 02:58 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

London's festive revelry reality

By Caroline Mallan
BBC News, London

Patient in tent
St John Ambulance volunteers aid paramedics in tending to the patients

On a Friday night at the height of the Christmas office party season, crews from London Ambulance Service (LAS) take on the job of picking up - and patching up - the stumbling wounded.

The paramedic and ambulance crews based in Hackney are in their third year of running the so-called "drunk tent" set up at the rear of a platform in Liverpool Street station.

The tent, a field hospital more commonly associated with natural disasters or war zones, operates each Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the December party season, often not seeing off their final casualties until 0400.

The ambulance service's mission is to treat as many people who have overindulged at the office party as possible, keeping valuable space in ambulances and at A&E free for real emergencies.

The crew, led by Nick Lesslar, relies on a mix of good humour and infinite patience to divert about 75% of patients away from hospital beds by getting them sober enough to get home safely.

Drowing sorrows

"The reality is that someone who is drunk doesn't need a hospital bed. Not when there are true sick people out there waiting for an ambulance," says Mr Lesslar, duty station officer for City and Hackney.

Terry Wing, St John Ambulance

LAS reports that the number of drink-related incidents is up a staggering 11% in the past year and, despite difficult economic times, crews say there is no sign that the booze tap is being turned off at office parties.

If anything, it appears city workers might even be drowning their sorrows in more drinks than usual.

On just one night last weekend, Mr Lesslar and his team treated several people who had fallen down and cut themselves or hit their heads, a woman with a broken nose, a man who had passed out cold on the platform and another man found collapsed on the street suffering from hypothermia.

Another man, in what was left of his tuxedo, had lost his wallet, mobile, house keys and jacket and could not remember his own address.

Pc Bryan Edwards from the British Transport Police, said police welcomed the annual "drunk" tent as an option on the busiest nights of the year.

"I think it's a good idea myself and I think it is good that they have taken the lead a bit with this.

"It's an option for us if someone is drunk and incapable of taking care of himself."

Terry Wing of St John Ambulance, which helps staff the tent with volunteers each week, said their job was to find out the best way to get people home safely, including cajoling them into handing over the contact details of friends or family who could collect them.

"Getting them home safely is the thing isn't it, although it would be nice if they thought of that bit before they had one more drink."



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