A "SAFE haven" for drunks and vulnerable people will open on the streets of Middlesbrough tonight FRI,DEC12 in an attempt to stop the town's Accident and Emergency services being misused.
The NHS and Middlesbrough Borough Council have provided £50,000 each to pay for the scheme for a year and its hoped the programme will reduce escalating A&E costs at James Cook University Hospital.
A survey in February at the hospital's A&E unit showed that 39 per cent of the 75 per cent of patients who agreed to talk had been drinking or had alcoholic-related problems the point where professional intervention was necessary.
However the survey by the Hospital Intervention and Liaison Team, funded by Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland Councils and the NHS, also found another 47 drunk patients were in A&E but had no need for any clinical assistance at all on what was a quiet weekend.
The Safe Haven team, which will also offer help to vulnerable people who have lost their friends, will run the service from 11pm to 5am on Friday and Saturday nights. There will be two medics, three substance misuse workers from the Lifeline charity and a specially trained security man. Very basic medical support, including bandaging, will be available.
For the first few weeks the 'shelter' will be in what would be an otherwise unused ambulances and a council vehicle on Corporation Road but eventually the team will move to a dedicated area 48, Albert Road. It will also provide a base for the Boro Angels, volunteer street pastors who also provide help to drinkers.
Public health workers at Middlesbrough council have worked with counterparts already running a similar project in Newcastle which was established by Police Commissioner Vera Baird after a drunk teenage girl was thrown out of a nightclub and raped by two men.
However Jonathan Bowden, commissioning manager of Public Health and Wellbeing at Middlesbrough council, stressed that the Middlesbrough version was primarily about public health and safety and freeing up A&E professionals to deal with genuine emergencies.
He said: "People have a perception of Middlesbrough town centre as being violent, but it's not really any more, there's a lot of myth making. Not that there aren't incidents, but the data shows there's just not the same number of fights as there may have been ten years ago. This is about safety really and preventing more people from clogging up the accident and emergency system.."
Similar havens, or drunk tanks, already exist in Sunderland and York.