Make sure you watch Channel 4 at 9pm tonight, and see how the wonderful people who work for our ambulance services are drowning in a sea of alcohol.
Like Tommy Lemon, who lays to rest the myth that ‘booze Britain’ is a weekend thing, saying the effects of alcohol dominate his and his colleagues’ work every night of the week. He is filmed after a shift which saw him deal with twelve emergencies, nine of which were alcohol related.
The biggest growth area for the emergency services’ drinking service, the programme informs us, has been middle class women. So we see the ambulance staff looking after a racegoer’s fancy hat as she sobers up in hospital. We see them trying to help a company executive so drunk he has become incontinent in every way imaginable. We see them taking a man to an address that he thinks is home, where he hasn’t lived for four years. We see them shadowing a young drunk for over an hour, despite him telling them to ‘fuck off’ as they try to help. We see a woman in the middle of a terrifying alcohol-induced psychotic attack who, when she has calmed down and sobered up, and later been through rehab, admits alcohol has caused her nothing but misery. We see a failed dental student aged 28 splitting his life between drinking cheap cider and harming his arms with a knife, saying rather unconvincingly that he doesn’t want to die. And we see the ambulance staff trying to help pick up the pieces of all these broken lives.
What is striking, despite the occasional disgust they display, is how they just accept it. ‘It is the British way,’ says one. ‘We queue, we moan, we get drunk and end up in the back of an ambulance or on the bonnet of a car.’ Her colleague, pointing out that every call out costs at least £250, says the drunk gets taken in to A and E, sobered up, given clean clothes, let out to go home, ‘and there are no repercussions regardless of what you do.’
Campaigning for a Minimum Unit Price recently, I heard the protest from many ‘why should I pay a bit more for a glass of wine, just because a minority drink too much?’ To which I say two things: first, I am not sure it is a minority any more, or if it is, it is a very sizeable one. And second, we are already paying more, in the form of ambulance workers who reckon three quarters of their work is booze-related; police officers required to patrol town and city centres where they know in advance excessive alcohol consumption is going to lead to disorder; a booze bill to the NHS of £3.5billion.
Every eight seconds, an ambulance goes out to deal with a drink-induced emergency. Somehow I think that is a price not worth paying, whereas a proper alcohol strategy focused on price, availability, marketing, education and proper treatment for dependent drinkers would be worth every penny it cost, not least because of the long term savings, and the better, healthier country it would create. Oh for a political party to come along and give this the priority it needs to be, and take on the vested interests preventing it from happening.
* 999What’s Your Emergency, Channel 4, 9pm tonight