Health bosses have urged hospital accident and emergency (A&E) departments to prepare for patient numbers “similar to that of New Year’s Eve” when pubs and bars reopen this weekend.
Thousands of drinking establishments and restaurants will open for customers for the first time in three months on July 4, on what is being dubbed ‘Super Saturday’.
Sunshine and warm temperatures are forecast across large parts of the country at the weekend.
The Standard has seen a letter sent on Friday by a regional NHS England director to hospital trusts’ chief operating officers urging them 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”.
New Year’s is traditionally a manic night for hospital emergency departments, with many members of the public arriving for help after injuring themselves while intoxicated.
The letter told hospital leaders to ensure they have extra staff, including senior medics, on site on Saturday. Trust leaders were also asked to make sure there are higher than normal levels of beds free in preparation for Saturday “should we also see a rise in admitted patients”.
The Health Service Journal reported that the note has been distributed in at least two regions.
One medic, Dr Jonathan Treml, tweeted: “Last Friday, NHS England wrote to all hospital Chief Operating Officers to advise them to plan capacity for “New Year’s Eve” levels of activity when pubs open on July 4th.”
The doctor wrote on the site that he “hoped that raising the issue may make a few people reconsider their plans for this weekend”.
One Twitter user, claiming to be a medic, commented: “They’ve put extra doctors on (including me) in A&E saturday night. Expecting a blood bath. Great.”
Another added: “Every colleague I’ve spoken to in Primary Care recently is feeling exhausted and worn down. Few have had any time off since March and we are in absolutely no mood for a surge in #COVID19 cases or alcohol related problems. “
It comes as Police Federation leaders warned that the public will be “out in droves” at the weekend, with one fearing a return to A&E departments resembling “a circus full of drunken clowns”.
Steve Kent, chair of South Yorkshire Police Federation, told The Independent that he thinks “we’re going to have a couple of weeks of New Year’s Eves” following the re-opening on Saturday.
During the UK lockdown A&E attendance plummeted as patients wary of catching Covid-19 stayed away. NHS England figures show attendances down from 2.2 million in May 2019 to 1.3 million in May this year — a drop of 42 per cent.
Police Federation chief John Apter also told Radio 4 last week that police chiefs are expecting drunken violence and disorder to breakout at the weekend, and worry that officers will be left to “pick up the pieces”.
The Government has asked punters to drink responsibly on Saturday.
When pubs open, table service is being encouraged to reduce the amount of interaction on shared surfaces and pub managers have been asked to take customers’ contact details for Covid-19 Test and Trace purposes.
Dr Rinesh Parmar, Chair of the Doctors’ Association UK, told the Standard: “Doctors and healthcare staff across the NHS have been working flat out during the pandemic to keep patients safe. It is absolutely vital that over the weekend and the coming weeks that people not only follow the social distancing guidance but they minimise the impact on A&E departments. As pubs re-open on 4th July we would call on people to exercise caution and moderation so that they do not suffer the ill effects of excess alcohol consumption.”
Dr Ian Higginson, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said increased demand on emergency departments this weekend is “somewhat difficult for us to think about” for already-stretched staff.
He told the PA news agency: “Staff aren’t particularly looking forward to a weekend where numbers could potentially increase and that increase could be in relation to alcohol.
“I would urge the public to think about hospitals and think about emergency departments in that way and to continue to look after the NHS and their staff and to be considerate in the way they behave to try and not end up in our departments.”
An NHS England spokesperson said: “Nurses, doctors and other NHS staff have been working around the clock dealing with the biggest global threat in a generation, and while they will be there for anyone who needs them, we know the public will want to avoid tying them up needlessly and putting others at risk by over-indulging this weekend.”