Fears over future of Sunderland’s ‘Booze Bus’

Mobile medical support bus, which is being launched by Sunderland PCT and which will be used to pick up binge drinkers - Colin Fozzard, street pastor, Inspector Mick Hall from Sunderland City Centre Community, Joe Hope, assistant operations manager which the North east Ambulance Service, Stewart Keenan, unit leader with St John Ambulance and Julie Belton, street pastor...

Mobile medical support bus, which is being launched by Sunderland PCT and which will be used to pick up binge drinkers - Colin Fozzard, street pastor, Inspector Mick Hall from Sunderland City Centre Community, Joe Hope, assistant operations manager which the North east Ambulance Service, Stewart Keenan, unit leader with St John Ambulance and Julie Belton, street pastor...

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A QUESTION mark is hanging over the future of a vital medical service that has helped hundreds of injured Wearsiders.

The Mobile Treatment Unit, dubbed The Booze Bus, has come to the rescue of city centre drinkers while easing pressure on Sunderland’s overstretched A&E department.

Touring the city on weekend nights, the unit is manned by paramedics, street pastors and members of St John Ambulance who provide on-the-spot treatment.

The pilot scheme was launched last June and was due to end this month but funding was this week secured until the end of May.

However, its long-term future looks less secure.

Councillor Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council and chairman of the Sunderland Partnership, said: “The Sunderland Partnership – which includes representatives of Northumbria Police, the council, and the health and voluntary sectors –is extending the pilot for a further two months. During this extension, the partnership is looking at the business case and the options for longer-term funding.”

Results of an independent evaluation of the pilot show that in the first three-and-a-half months, the bus saved about 66 ambulance call-outs and 44 A&E attendances linked to the city centre’s night-time economy on Friday and Saturday nights. Fifty-eight people have been treated by the unit since the start of 2013.

Nonnie Crawford, director of public health for Sunderland, said: “Anything that reduces demand on the North East Ambulance Service and other emergency services on a Friday and Saturday night has to be a benefit for any Sunderland resident who requires emergency healthcare over the same period.

“It is too early to speculate beyond the end of May, but I will do what I can to support it.”