A SENIOR ERI doctor has issued an early appeal for revellers to limit their festive drinking to avoid having to turn part of the under-pressure hospital into a drunk tank.
The ERI’s medical day case unit, which is usually for sick or injured patients who need minor procedures, will be transformed into a recovery unit for the inebriated if needed.
But manning the unit during a time when services are being stretched to breaking point causes a huge strain.
Dr Dave Caesar, NHS Lothian’s clinical director for emergency medicine, said the contingency plan would see the area opened if, as expected, a huge influx of patients arrive at A&E at New Year typically having drunk too much or with alcohol-associated injuries.
The top medic said that his department was continuing to see a high number of alcohol-related cases, with illness caused by chronic alcoholism on the rise.
Dr Caesar appealed for the public to limit their alcohol consumption over Christmas and New Year, but compared efforts at changing Scotland’s ingrained drinking culture as like “trying to turn an oil tanker around with a penguin”.
“Clearly, Hogmanay is going to be one of those times when there are likely to be more alcohol-related admissions,” he said.
“It’s not usually just intoxication, but injuries or alcohol-related illness.
“We would like not to have so many, but we have to plan to have extra capacity.
“We can’t predict what’s going to come in, but sure as eggs are eggs, part of the increase will be alcohol-related.
“We may use it [the medical day case unit] for observation for head injuries, which are usually associated with alcohol, or for a variety of toxicological presentations.
“We tend to see 50 to 100 more people on Hogmanay and the first than on any other day of the year. We have to be flexible and creative about how we use our space.
“It clearly has an effect on how we can deal with non- alcohol-related things.
“People still have accidents and heart attacks. We staff up and try to encourage more people to work that evening and the next day.”
As well as added space and capacity in A&E, medical and nursing staff, paramedics and first-aiders will take to the streets at Hogmanay to deal with an inevitable influx of drinkers.
Measures aimed at taking the heat off A&E include “sleep off” facilities for those who are intoxicated but do not need medical treatment.
Throughout the year, between a fifth and a quarter of presentations at A&E are alcohol related, with an influx of visitors to the Capital and heavy-drinking tradition meaning the proportion rises significantly higher at New Year.
Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Although this is a thoroughly depressing move, I can fully understand why NHS Lothian needs to make it.”