See what really happens in boozy London
Tuesday 06 December 2011
During the festive season, boozing increases by a staggering 40 per cent and alarming sights, such as girls lying comatose in pools of vomit, become increasingly common.
In the run-up to Christmas, Closer spent a frantic Friday night on London’s specially designed “booze bus” – an ambulance specifically for drunks – and witnessed the mayhem on the front line.
Distressingly, during our seven-hour shift, we saw horrifying scenes, including women rendered incoherent by booze lying in dark streets, being sick, with their underwear on show, and men collapsed among bags of rubbish with head injuries.
For the “booze bus” paramedics, Brian Hayes, 41, Antonia Gissing, 42, and driver Andre Elbourne-Le Brun, 40, being lashed out at and insulted is all in a night’s work. We witnessed one woman – who was vomiting endlessly into a plastic bag – call Antonia a b**ch and kick her.
“Between 11pm and 3am, 70 per cent of all 999 calls to the ambulance service are drink related,” Brian says.
“We’re abused on every shift. One girl bit Antonia’s hand. Another colleague was punched by a female solicitor – she was prosecuted and lost her job. The girls are worse when it comes to violence. They drink the same as men and often stock up on booze at home and don’t eat.”
Antonia also describes the shocking indignity of binge-boozing. She says: “We go out to girls slumped in club loos with their knickers around their ankles; we’ve found girls naked in grit bins and I remember one knicker-less woman soiling herself through her fishnet tights.”
Brian reveals some revellers’ nights out have even ended in tragedy. He says: “One lad in his 20s jumped from a wall and fell 20ft head-first to his death. Another leapt from one of the lion statues in Trafalgar Square and ended up paralysed.”
Shockingly, last year London ambulance staff dealt with 68,792 drunk patients – an average of 180 a day and an increase of 7.9 per cent on the year before. It’s to cope with this demand that they created the “booze bus” back in 2005 to take the pressure off regular ambulances. Over Christmas, they run two “buses” as incidents double.
At 10.15pm on our night with the paramedics, we race to a 25-year-old woman lying in a dark street in pools of vomit.
Dress hitched around her waist, knickers exposed, she can’t speak or move and it takes three paramedics to lift her as her legs slip in the vomit, which is also in her hair and on her clothes.
Her friend, who’s also drunk, giggles: “She only drank a bottle and a half of wine, that’s normal” – even though that’s around 14 units, the recommended weekly amount for women. She also admits they haven’t eaten.
In the specially adapted ambulance – which holds three patients but is sometimes stretched to five – the paramedics put a plastic sick bag around her neck and check her blood sugar and body temperature – which is a degree lower than it should be.
She begins to sob as her head lolls forwards, mascara smeared but, shockingly, her mate becomes angry they’re being taken to hospital and starts pushing Antonia. When we arrive at London’s St Thomas’ Hospital, the drunken girl is wheeled into A&E, struggling for breath.
“People need to realise how much girls are drinking,” says Brian. “They’re being targeted by the drinks industry and they down far more as they get ready to go out –pre-loading is a real issue. Alcohol is cheap and readily available so it’s easy to do. And sometimes they don’t eat to save calories.”
At 11.40pm we receive our next call – this time the patient is a 19- year-old boy lying face-down in bags of rubbish on Oxford Street.
He can’t stand and has a bump on his head. He’s angry and refuses to go to hospital. Because he has a sober mate willing to take him home, he’s allowed to go.
An hour later, we receive two calls within minutes – the first is a 35-year-old smartly dressed male, slumped outside a private members’ club, his glasses smashed. He’s limp but, once on the bus, he hits out at Antonia before falling off his seat. There, she places him in the recovery position, puts a sick bag round his neck and covers him in a blanket as he calls out for his mum.
Back at St Thomas’, all three paramedics have to lift our patient on to a wheelchair, where he slips straight to the floor with a stain on his crotch – all dignity gone.
It’s now 1.40am and, once Antonia has mopped up the bus, we attend a woman in her 30s, bra exposed, lying on a busy street. She can’t stand but, once on the bus, gets violent, calling Antonia a b**ch and pushing her away.
Siren blaring, we race straight to another call – a 21-year-old male lying on the street.
“I’ve had half a litre of vodka, two Jack Daniel’s and vodka and Red Bull,” he says, slumping.
As he and the girl continue to be sick into their plastic bags, we attend yet another call, this time it’s a 20-year-old man sitting outside a club drenched in vomit. He’s docile, but his female friends are aggressive and intimidating, especially when one shouts “d*ckheads!” as the paramedics carry him to the bus. Told they can’t get on board, they swear then slump to the pavement. One slurs: “We only had a glass of rosé and four shots.”
“You can always double what they tell you,” Antonia reveals.
By 3am, we’re back at St Thomas’ with all three patients slumped in wheelchairs.
A charge nurse in A&E, who asks to remain anonymous, tells Closer: “We dread the drunks – the booze bus could come once an hour on Friday and Saturday nights near Christmas, with three people each time. We get attacked regularly.
“Once, a 16-year-old girl tore apart a cubicle. Kids of 13 come in unable to stand.”
Brian adds: “We’ve also had an 11-year-old girl on the booze bus before. She’d been drinking vodka with her mates.”
We leave the bus at 4am, after attending seven calls, but the team are set to carry on until 7am – and are visibly exhausted.
“I wouldn’t do it if I hated it,” Antonia insists. “I like to know I’m taking the strain off the other ambulances.”
Brian adds: “We have a massive binge-drinking problem in this country. We see the dark side, it isn’t glamorous – it can kill.”
By Emily Retter
Posted by geenie123
RE: See what really happens in boozy London
Brilliant article!!!!!! I work for another Ambulance Service and it annoys me when we get slated for not reaching patients on time etc. Our service does not have a booze bus unfortunately so our front line vehicles have to deal with these people. Hopefully this will show that we try our best but sadly our recources get wasted on silly people who drink themselves far beyond their limits or just think we are a free taxi ride home!!! Also these people think our staff are there to take al lthe abuse off them, they don't belittle the patient or criticise them for what they have done to themselves they just try to help them in the best way they can. Well done closer, quite possibly the most educating and best story you have printed. Thank you!!
Posted 07/12/2011 10:57:01
Posted by geenie123
RE: See what really happens in boozy London
Posted 07/12/2011 10:58:36