Does Hertfordshire need a 'drunk tank'?

Hertfordshire needs a 'drunk tank' wherre people who have had too much alcohol - and who are sometimes aggressive - can be monitored in a safe environment.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 5:27 pm
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That was an idea mooted during a day-long scrutiny of suicide prevention.

When people have sobered up they can be taken to hospital for medical attention or go home.

These facilities have already been used across the country - sometimes placed close to A&E departments or even running in converted lorries.

And last year the NHS set up a £300,000 fund for city centre 'drunk tanks' in city centres over the festive period.

On Monday (October 14) Hertfordshire's director of public health Jim McManus suggested there should be a similar facility in Hertfordshire.

Preferring to refer to it as "a crisis recovery unit", Mr McManus said: "I hate the phrase 'drunk tank' - but we need one."

And following the day-long meeting - which focused on suicide prevention work - he said the 'crisis recovery unit' could be staffed by drug and alcohol workers, as well as care staff.

It would, he said, care for those who were intoxicated or high and were suffering a 'crisis' - without immediately going to A&E or seeing a mental health team.

And once they were sober their mental health needs, if any, could then be assessed - rather than taking up A&E time and police time, while they could not be treated.

As well as being cheaper, Mr McManus says it would be a better experience for the patient too.

"It's not fair to A&E to expect them to deal with people whose needs are more complex," he said. "We have to work together to find a better solution.

"It would free up NHS time - and it would give people a better treatment experience. And it would significantly free up police time."

Mr McManus made the comments following a meeting of the county council's suicide prevention strategy topic group - a day-long meeting set up to scrutinise the ongoing work in the county.

That meeting heard evidence from the Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT), the Samaritans, Hertfordshire Constabulary, British Transport Police and Dick Lovelace, whose son took his own life at the age of just 23.

The panel heard that Hertfordshire Police already have mental health practitioners in their control room - and that officers have additional mental health training.

They operate a number of triage vehicles to support those suffering a mental health crisis, staffed by a police officer and a mental health practitioner.

But during the day-long hearing, Sarah Biggs - who works for Hertfordshire Constabulary and HPFT - said the county was "missing" somewhere safe to sober up.

And she said the police often had to spend time taking people to hospital who did not need to be there, but were not safe to leave.

Michael Boyce from the British Transport Police said that officers could sit at A&E for up to six hours while a patient sobers up.

And he said officers faced a difficult decision in whether to leave them there - because of the inquiry that would follow should the patient die in the hours after having contact with a police officer.

Among the recommendations drafted by the topic group panel was that there should be a 'safe place' created - where people in crisis could be taken to be safe.

Other recommendations looked at joint working with other organisations, bereavement support, mandatory training for front-line staff in GP surgeries and British Transport Police's work in schools.