Fines, 'field hospitals' for U.K. holiday revelers

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As Britons kick off the holiday season with one of the biggest drinking weekends of the year, police officers will be handing out £80 ($155) fines to any revelers caught misbehaving and medics in Wales have set up “field hospitals” to deal with the over-intoxicated.

In an effort to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence and prevent under-age drinking, the U.K. Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) have joined forces to wage what they describe as a “Christmas blitz on binge drinking.”

“The message is stark and simple – if you brawl in the street, urinate in a doorway or are sick in the curb, you could be slapped with a £80 fine,” said Licensing Minister Richard Caborn.

“We’re not messing around;  we want decent, law-abiding people to be able to get home safely from their Christmas and New Year parties,” he said.

The initiative, which began Friday and ends on Jan. 3, follows a similar campaign conducted over the summer, when 45 percent of the licensed premises targeted in sting operations were selling alcohol to people under 18 — the legal drinking age across England, Scotland, and Wales. Police also issued more than 4,000 fixed-penalty notices, arrested 5,658 people, and seized alcohol from 3,292 underage drinkers.

Police are expecting to hand out even more fines this time around.

“It’s worse because people traditionally drink more at Christmas time; there’s parties, it’s the festive season, so people drink more, which is why we’re doing (this campaign) over the Christmas period,” said a spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

Also, more than 180 communities are being targeted in this campaign — double the number than took part over the summer, with every force in England and Wales taking part.

Binge-drinking culture
The ease with which youngsters can illegally obtain alcohol is especially alarming given the country’s propensity for binge-drinking and the rise in alcohol abuse by both young men and women alike.

The most recent U.K. research on the subject concludes that “binge drinking is now so routine that young people find it difficult to explain why they do it.”

“We are a culture that goes out and gets drunk, and we don’t go out to drink, we go out to get drunk,” said a women in her early 20s, according to research released by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (I.A.S.) in September.

Nearly 40 percent of British men and 20 percent of women reported binge-drinking weekly, according to the I.A.S. report. The British were only topped by the Irish; nearly half of whose men reported such weekly levels of inebriation. Meanwhile, even in countries known to like their tipple, Germany and Sweden, less than 10 percent reported weekly bouts.

The Home Office and ACPO will be using the results from the two campaigns to gage the rate at which alcohol consumption and binge-drinking are increasing, and what effect they are having on communities’ welfare, according to the ACPO spokesman.

'Field hospitals' treat alcohol casualties
Meantime, in Wales, "field hospitals" have been set up for "Black Friday" — the last Friday before offices shutter for the holidays.

While "field hospitals" are usually associated with war casualties, in Cardiff and Swansea they are being used to treat those cut down by beer and spirits.

“It’s a triage set up for people who’ve tripped over and have minor cuts and bruises and so-on,” said inspector Malcolm Lewis of South Wales Police Headquarters.

“It’s the party season when people overload the hospitals, so this eases the burden,” he said.

Each of sites is equipped with around four nurses, an equal number of paramedics, and has police security.

“It depends what happens in pub and club land, but tonight being Black Friday, I’d think we’d get about 20 people at each site,” said Mark Winter, regional ambulance officer for the Welsh Ambulance Service.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the short space of time it’s quite a bit,” he said, adding that the sites will only treat the “walking wounded,” ferrying the seriously injured or unconscious to hospitals.

The sites will also be open on the big-boozing-nights of Dec. 23 and New Year’s Eve. And, if they prove effective, Welsh police and ambulance service officers expect they’ll soon be copied across Great Britain.

Despite the fears and precautions, police and medics insist they’re not out to ruin the festive season.

“That’s the way this country is, but it’s mostly good fun,” said Lewis, of the South Wales Police Force.