The NHS will miss a chance to contribute positively to public health if it settles rolling out ‘drunk tanks’ in city centre night time economies. Protecting emergency services staff from troublesome drunks and saving ambulance/hospital resources to serve ill people are obviously needed. It’s a pity if that is all that motivates the health sector to get involved and they limit their response to crating up drunken individuals in dark places to sleep it off. Investing like that as if they function in isolation and take no interest beyond those two aims, means they ignore the needs of others - individuals with different needs and agencies working positively to keep the night time safe - in equal measure.
In Newcastle, as in other areas, local relationships have been developed between police, street pastors, local authority, staff in commercial premises and CCGs or the ambulance service to jointly resource Safe Havens in the night time economy. Every weekend the Safe Haven is in place – it has its own distinct branding and is alongside St John’s medical unit, right in the heart of the night time economy, providing assistance to whoever needs it.
The Haven is nearer than the nearest hospital and friends propping someone up and drunken people staggering are likelier to go there. So the hospital doesn’t see so many of them. Street pastors, police, even door-staff, are all trained in safeguarding under the Security Industry Authority’s (SIA) accreditation requirements, bring people to the Haven. In the festive season we piloted a paramedic car with a cop on board, to pick up anyone too far away or too far gone to get there in any other way. St John’s people can triage and either they or the Haven van will take people in to lie down, drink water, etc unless they actively need hospital attention.
Northumbria featured on the ‘Today’ programme as already having a drunk tank when NHS head, Simon Stevens announced his possible interest in rolling them out nationwide. The Haven serves that purpose but it does much more. There have helped people who need assistance, and who are not always drunk.
The Haven was created after a horrific rape when a young girl, extremely drunk, was removed by a doorman from a club. When he couldn’t get a taxi to take her, he had to go back to work and left her with a man who offered to help. He raped her and passed her on to two other men who carried her from dark place to dark place around the town, raping and indecently assaulting her when she was virtually comatose, until morning when she became aware, struggled free and ran for help. The City united to do its best to stop such a crime from ever recurring.
A company providing door staff worked funded a course in safeguarding, delivered by the police and Rape Crisis – this course was later adopted by the SIA nationally. Door staff are aware of their responsibilities of helping protect people from predators, trying to reunite individuals lost from friends. If all else fails, the Safe Haven will offer help and support. The training is invaluable, and has been delivered to street pastors, hotel receptionist and public transport personnel to name but a few.
The Safe Haven in Newcastle is just part of the culture of safekeeping around the night time economy, in which the ambulance service play a full part. 85% of the Haven’s work is drink-related but perhaps because so many city centre staff have been trained and try to solve problems themselves, the vehicles are never overwhelmed. The link with St Johns is welcoming to those who may need assistance but do not wish to interact in a formal police setting.
It serves a mental health purpose too. The vehicle can be the place that someone suffering or even having a breakdown can walk into or be taken to. They might not have been willing or aware that they need help but the Haven is labelled as what it is, offering help to anyone. In some instances the Community Psychiatric nurse has provided assessments to those visiting the Haven, it provides somewhere where a specialist could attend to get access as soon as possible. More than one ex-military person has come to the Haven, with PTSD in fact, but not prior to that willing to tell anyone that there was something wrong. In some of these cases, ironically the disinhibiting presence of alcohol can actually free people up to seek help and the Haven is there
Consistently the breakdown of users shows a majority under 30 and a lot are female. There are 70000 students in Newcastle in term time. There are also regular users that come to notice (mental health/homeless persons) who make average age higher.
Between 21st July 2017 to 26th August 2017 showed 47 interactions, from 6th January 2017 to 4th February 2017 shows 38 interactions and between 1st Sept to October 2017, there were 71 recorded interactions with the Safe Haven. And that year St Johns helped over 1000 people at the Haven
Like the street pastors and the intensified police presence in the city at night, the Haven is funded through the Late Night Levy, paid to the Council by pubs and clubs staying open after midnight. The Safe Haven costs £120,000 a year, but must save 10 times that in ambulance callouts and other services’ costs avoided by offering appropriate support. The NHS now have an opportunity to deliver similar or better services across the country. With national encouragement we could improve our service, as hospital trusts will be fully engaged.
Drunk tanks miss the mark by miles. We need to work together to the common advantage of all the agencies involved in every kind of safeguarding and, at the same time, we tackle deep and persistent drunkenness, all the better for seeing it to for what it often is, something which people need help well beyond a place to crash out.