Mobile “booze buses” to treat drunken revellers could soon become a common sight in towns and cities across England, after a pilot project led to dramatic decreases in A&E admissions and saved the NHS hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Trials of the buses, which provide rapid first aid to people who have got into trouble on a night out, are estimated to have saved the health service £300,000 by reducing the need for ambulance callouts and hospital treatment.
The mobile units, which were placed in Maidstone and Reading town centres, were part of a Government-funded initiative which gave 20 areas around England a share of £1 million to test potential solutions to problem drinking and anti-social behaviour.
Running between March 2012 and September last year, the Alcohol Fund was overseen by Baroness Newlove, whose husband Garry was killed by a gang of youths outside their home in 2007. She has since been made Victims’ Commissioner.
Although decisions on whether to introduce the buses in other towns and cities will be left up to individual councils, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said other areas “should learn from the successes of the project” and aim to emulate them.
According to the Alcohol Fund’s final report, Maidstone’s Urban Blue Bus helped more than 1,700 people, preventing around 1,000 ambulance callouts and saving the NHS around £250,000.
The mobile unit, which was parked on the town’s high street on Friday and Saturday nights, treated people with minor injuries and provided a safe waiting area for vulnerable revellers who were waiting for transport home.
Reading Borough Council said the town’s First Stop Bus, which has been in operation since December 2013, had successfully treated 475 people and saved the NHS around £50,000 in ambulance callouts and A&E costs.
Duncan Bruce, community partnerships officer at Maidstone Borough Council, said staff had been surprised by the success of the bus and suggested that other towns and cities should introduce their own mobile units.
“The first bus wore out – literally – so we’ve since got another one to replace it,” he said. “It takes a while and these things don’t happen overnight, but with them there you can go into town and have a good night out, knowing that you’ll be nice and safe.
“The idea was to have an identifiable resource in the town centre at night which could form a base to give emergency aid, first aid and to be a place where people could go if they were lost or had their money stolen.”
Other front-line initiatives to deal with problem drinking included the introduction of taxi marshals in Exeter on Saturday nights. Over a 20-week period staff dealt with 86 incidents, of which only a quarter required the assistance of the emergency services. Volunteer “street pastors” in Bury and “evening safety wardens” in Lincoln were also credited with marked reductions in anti-social behaviour.
A DCLG spokesman said: “The Alcohol Fund brought 20 local communities together to test innovative ideas to reduce problem drinking and related anti-social behaviour, improve how local people work together and make real changes to their area.
“Over the two years, these community coalitions of local police, community activists, local authorities and retailers saw marked drops in anti-social behaviour, street drinking and for some, ambulance callouts.
“Many of these grassroots projects were designed to be self-sustaining and councils and police authorities are continuing to fund street pastors, alcohol awareness education and retailer training. Those who invested in community buses are also likely to see these continue.”
Success story: Maidstone’s bus trial
By day, Maidstone’s converted double-decker Urban Blue Bus pulls up at schools and other organisations, with staff giving talks on a range of subjects from teenage pregnancy to drug awareness.
But on Friday and Saturday nights it is a regular sight in the town centre, where its main goal has been to reduce the number of ambulance callouts and A&E admissions related to heavy drinking. Statistics show that it saved the NHS £250,000 over the two years of the Alcohol Fund trial.
Now painted white, the bus is equipped with an on-board medical area for the treatment of minor injuries and is manned by 15 first-aid trained volunteers.
Duncan Bruce of Maidstone Borough Council said that as well as providing essential first aid, the bus’s visibility on the high street meant that it was used as a kind of night-time community hub. He joked that Maidstone on a Saturday night was “relatively calm” and “wasn’t Beirut” but that the bus was often in demand.
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