MILLENNIUM CELEBRATIONS: Hospitals prepare for New Year's hangover

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LONDON HOSPITALS will be setting aside extra beds on New Year's eve to allow drunks to sleep off the effects of the prolonged celebrations. All hospitals along the Thames, where the greatest crowds are expected, will have at least an extra ward each of 28 beds to accommodate casualties.

Doctors fear that alcohol-related injuries will be worse this year than in the past because of plans to mark the millennium as it arrives in different parts of the globe. 1 January will dawn in the western Pacific at around 11am Greenwich Mean Time on 31 December, and some UK drinkers are expected to begin celebrating then and keep going until the early hours.

The NHS will be placed on disaster alert to deal with the expected 2.5 million revellers who will congregate on the Thames on 31 December. The London Ambulance Service will operate its "major incident" strategy, last used at the Paddington rail disaster, to co-ordinate the capital's ambulances. There will be 190 on duty, 40 more than usual for a Friday. Many hospitals are doubling their accident and emergency staff for New Year's Eve.

The British Medical Association said that the NHS had learnt the lessons of last winter, when hospital accident and emergency departments in the North were overwhelmed.

Dr John Chisolm, chairman of the GPs committee, said: "GPs are going to be working phenomenally hard over the holiday period. Patients can be assured that the services they need will be available." In Sheffield, for example, the number of phone lines to the local GP out of hours co- operative has been quadrupled.

St Mary's Hospital, London, is calling in four times its normal staff for the accident and emergency department on New Year's Eve, while St Thomas', the closest to Trafalgar square, will have twice as many as last year.