A&E doctors have pleaded with people in England not to get “plastered” when pubs reopen on Saturday in case they overwhelm the NHS and spread coronavirus.
There are mounting fears that “Super Saturday” could bring problems with drunkenness as licensed premises allow customers in for the first time since the lockdown began on 23 March.
NHS England has already warned hospitals and ambulance services that they are in for a busy weekend, with demand for care likely to reach “that of New Year’s Eve” on Saturday evening.
The body that represents A&E medics, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, is urging the public to behave sensibly by not drinking to excess or getting into fights.
“Saturday will come as a welcome release from an unprecedented nationwide lockdown and it is understandable that people want to let off steam. But we urge the public to be careful and use common sense. The NHS has coped admirably during this period, but staff are exhausted, and the system is very fragile,” said Dr Katherine Henderson, the college’s president.
“After seeing all the goodwill, all of the clapping for the NHS, it would be heartbreaking to see A&Es overwhelmed on the first post-lockdown evening by people who have gotten too drunk or been in a fight.
“If you go to A&E because you’re plastered, you end up stretching the health service further and potentially put others at risk. Not only do you risk accidentally infecting someone with coronavirus because you don’t know you have it, but you are taking up the time of doctors who could be treating patients whose lives are in danger,” said Henderson, an A&E consultant in London.
“It has never been more important that our emergency departments are for absolute emergencies, and it has never been more important that people drink responsibly. While social distancing measures may have been relaxed, the threat of coronavirus has not gone away; it is still very real, it is still very dangerous,” she added.
A&E units have been much quieter than usual during the pandemic as many patients have either not sought help at all or gone to a GP, pharmacist or NHS walk-in centre instead. On Tuesday the Health Service Journal revealed that NHS England had sent a memo to hospitals in several parts of the country telling them to have enough staff on duty this weekend as part of efforts to “ensure that your demand/activity planning reflects a busy weekend, with peaks in activity into the evenings similar to that of New Year’s Eve”.
Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, the trade union Unite’s national officer for health, said “gung-ho messaging from Boris Johnson” about the lifting of lockdown restrictions risked causing problems.
“It is with deep concern that our members in the ambulance service and in A&E departments are preparing themselves for the fallout from a badly-behaved minority when pubs reopen on Saturday.”
In recent weeks ambulance crews have seen an increase in 999 calls related to accidents at illegal parties, more young people saying that they have Covid-19 and a rise in the use of nitrous oxide, which is better known as “laughing gas”.
Pubs reopen in Northern Ireland this Friday, in Wales on 13 July and in Scotland at a future date that has not yet been confirmed.