Call for Soho Alcohol Recovery Centre to open all year

The head of a centre where drunken revellers are taken to recover during nights out in the festive season has called for it to remain open all year.

BBC London visited the Alcohol Recovery Centre (ARC) in Soho, central London, during its busiest weekend of the year.

Paramedic Brian Hayes, head of the ARC, said: "A big hope would be that we can do this all year round."

Westminster City Council funds the centre and currently has no plans to open it throughout the year.

The ARC is only open between 15 and 31 December. It treated 20 people on Thursday, 37 people on Friday and 21 people on Saturday night.

"In providing this facility, in no way are we condoning drinking to excess but we want to free up spaces in accident and emergency units for those who genuinely need them," said Daniel Astaire, Westminster Council's Conservative cabinet member for adult services and health.

"But this is only a cost effective measure during peak periods at Christmas, as at this time of year we are helping a large number of people at the same time."

'Simply drunk'

Mr Hayes said if the ARC was open all year round, "we could make an absolute massive difference to not only the A&E department but the primary care trusts, the ambulance service, freeing up ambulances dealing with life-threatening conditions".

"Last night when we finished, we went back via the A&E department and popped in and they said it was just like a normal Saturday.

"We dealt with 37 - those 37 would have ended up in A&E, would have taken up 37 beds. That tells you just how much time and effort we've saved."

A London Ambulance Service spokeswoman said: "We have only trialled ARC when alcohol-related 999 calls increase, over the Christmas and new year period.

"We believe ARC has a role to play but is not the only solution.

"We would like better education around alcohol to encourage people to think twice before they get so drunk."

She added anything which kept patients safe, ambulances free for serious emergencies and drunk people out of A&E was a good thing.

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