Saturday night, the scourge of all police officers and ambulance crews. These days, all nights are busy, but weekend nights are often like being in a war zone. Trust me. I've done both. Sometimes I think that it was safer in the other one. As I work only nights, my weekend night shifts come round more often than most, and without fail, I regret them.
A list of a weekend night's proceedings often resembles a list of the wives of King Henry VIII. Divorced, Beheaded, Died. Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.
A Saturday night on the street runs something like this: Drunk, Assaulted, Trashed. Drunk, Assaulted, Crashed. The last of these might only appear once a night. If that. If you work in the centre of London, there are probably even fewer. I work out in the suburbs, so there's a chance that once the pubs, clubs and fast food shops have shut, I may actually have to treat someone who genuinely needs an ambulance. By that time, I'm tired, cranky, and struggling to give them my best attention and care. That which they genuinely deserve.
Last night, I tweeted about treating drunks, by asking a simple question. Do you think that people who call ambulances because they've had too much to drink, should be charged?
All dozen or so replies were positive. Some just said "Yes". Someone said "Yes, without a shadow of a doubt". And one even went as far as saying "YES!! YES!!!! A THOUSAND TIMES YES!!!" It seems that I received some support for the idea.
It's a knee-jerk, almost default position by health care professionals, and even some who aren't in the medical field at all: You're drunk. It's of your own doing. You should know your limits, or suffer the consequences. You don't need an ambulance. You don't need to be in A&E. And we most certainly don't want to be the ones who have to clean up all the bodily fluids you emit in your sorry state. Therefore, we all want to charge you. I'm as guilty of it as the next person. Not so much the drunk bit, but the wanting to charge bit. But there's a problem with this thought, once taken to one of its logical conclusions.
We should charge those who overdose on drugs. The heroin addicts who should know their limits, but who take a little more than their normal amount, end up not breathing, and who we administer Naloxone to to get them breathing again, ready for their next hit.
We should charge drunks who wonder out into the middle of a busy road and get hit by the car whose driver had no chance of avoiding them. Or by the same account, charge the drunk driver who's hit the lamp post that's sat on the pavement for years, but suddenly jumped into the middle of the road.
We should charge the wrist-slitters, crying for attention at the age of 18 after being dumped by the love of their lives, and who next week will have another life's love.
We should charge drunks who we convey not for being drunk, but whose drunken state has led to some sort of illness or injury.
We should, therefore, charge anyone who should have had some degree of responsibility for their own presenting condition.
Smokers with emphysema? Charge.
Footballers with broken legs? Charge.
Diabetics with high blood-sugars? Charge.
So how far do we take this knee-jerk reaction, this desire to charge drunks? Is it a question of all or nothing, in which case we charge everyone, or do we continue as we are, charge nobody, and just have to keep putting up with it, whilst we all, as taxpayers, foot the bill? Once upon a time, drunks were taken to police cells, given a mattress to sleep on and sober up, generally ignored, and were then sent home in the morning. Just that cost money.
Now, they get an emergency ambulance, often accompanied by the FRU, as they are frequently supposedly unconscious or not alert. If they're in town, they might get the dedicated "booze bus", a multiple-patient-transporting, baby-sitting service staffed by EMTs and paramedics who are clearly a lot less averse to dealing with alcohol-induced vomit than I am. They get a hospital bed, an overworked nurse, a disinterested doctor, and sometimes a bag of fluids as well. All very often whilst abusing those who are caring for them. And that's if all they have is a serious case of overindulgenceitis. That's a lot more expensive, and a lot more frustrating, which is part of the reason we feel that we want to charge. But is it right? In the overall spirit of the NHS, free to all at the point of treatment, can we really justify it? And if we are going to start charging, who do we charge, what for, and how much?
I have lots of questions when it comes to charging drunks.
I just wish I had some decent answers.
What do you think?