The Sobering Cost Of Binge Drinkers In Merton

Figures reveal the cost to emergency services

Binge drinkers are costing emergency response services in Merton £115,000 a year, according to new figures.

FOI figures obtained by the Conservatives reveal London's Ambulance Service is spending a total of £16m a year on responding to and treating drunks, and responded to 498 alcohol related incidents in Merton in 2012/13, costing £115k a year.

In addition, the capital is spending at least £45m on binge drinkers needing emergency hospital admissions.

Admissions relating to alcohol in London hospitals have tripled in the last decade - from 56,000 in 2002 to 156,000 in 2011.

A new report, 'On The Wagon' calls for 'Sobering Centres' and Booze Buses, manned by nurses, to operate on troubled high streets, across London, all year round.

Conservative London Assembly Member for Wandsworth and Merton, Richard Tracey, said: "Many people like a tipple but our public services should not be catering for bingers who can’t handle their drink. Our ambulances, prison cells and A&Es are designed for medical emergencies or dangerous criminals, yet we are seeing London's drunks hogging these services, costing the capital millions of pounds.

"We need to deal with drunks in a more appropriate way. Purpose-built Sobering Centres and Booze Buses, manned by nurses, can provide low level treatment such as blood pressure and blood sugar checks as well as a bed for the night. This will deliver significant savings by freeing up prison cells and emergency rooms for London's real problems."

Currently, London has recently closed its only sobering centre (which was located in Westminster) and has just one remaining Booze Bus – operating on a seasonal basis only in central London.

This report recommends targeting the Capital's trouble high streets with a total of three Sobering Centres and 10 Booze Buses - operating all year round across London.

Merton currently has 525 On/Off licenced locations which sobering services could be targeted towards.

The report also calls for Parliament to double drunk fines to £180 and target those who repeatedly abuse public services.

Richard Tracey said: "We need to deter this behaviour by doubling fines for drunkenness to £180 and hitting those who repeatedly abuse our health services, many of whom are currently getting off scot-free. The cash raised could fund targeted support and guidance for repeat offenders. The Mayor of London needs to lobby Parliament to make this happen and I'll be urging him to do so."

With 13% of the Merton’s over 16 population engaging in binge drinking, according to the report, fines could help encourage better drinking behaviour while the sobering services could help target the worst of this group for better long-term sobering treatment.

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June 30, 2014