• 13 Jan - 19 Jan, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

A cross the pond in the now not-so-United States of America, there is a Thanksgiving ceremony marked by a public holiday. It was originally supposed to be a harvest festival giving thanks for the bounty produced by the land, but it became a regular feature of American life, celebrated every year with a public holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. After then, President Abraham Lincoln declared it as a day of thanksgiving and praise to God in 1863, presumably just after the Union had defeated the Confederates at Gettysburg. Given the scale of bloodshed in that battle, with the two armies sharing some 46,000 to 51,000 casualties between them, it was hardly an occasion of Thanksgiving, but then, that is politics.

We have never had such a Thanksgiving Day here in the UK, but there is a very strong case for one. It should be somewhere in the first week of January, a day to give thanks to the Almighty for having guided us all safely through the terrifying celebrity joys of Christmas and the New Year. Not only is this the time of year when essential services are hard or impossible to come by, but it is also one when being out anywhere on the road is an act of courage. Alcohol consumption, which at any time of the year is very high in Britain – and something which, quite inexplicably, most Britons seem to be quite proud of – goes through the roof when the celebrations start and by the time the New Year comes about, drunkenness reaches alarming proportions.

It is estimated that normally on any week day, about 15 to 20 per cent of all cases attended to by the Accident and Emergency (A & E) units of hospitals are due to drunkenness. Many are in such an advanced state of inebriation that they are unable to stand, with quite a few having fallen on streets and footpaths and thereby having suffered serious cuts and bruises, sometimes even fractures. However on a Friday night, the percentage of drunks in A & E units rise to as much as 70 per cent in some cases, with many having no problem more serious than simply having drunk far too much, to find their way back home or even to tell anyone their address, and the A & E units and police cells up and down the land have little alternative but to keep these drunks for the night and then send them off home in the morning by which time they would, hopefully, have sobered up enough to find their way home. Many of those thus utilising hospital and state facilities are women. The emancipation of women has more than one side to it!

There has, quite understandably, been a reaction to this not on any moral grounds regarding drunkenness but on the more political argument that A & E services are not meant for drunks, that ambulances responding to calls to deal with drunks may miss out on more deserving patients whose demands for the state health service are not just an issue of lifestyle choice but of a physical ailment beyond their control. The police too feel that they are there to deal with issues much more grave than drunkenness. In fact, the head of the National Health Service (NHS) has said on more than one occasion that what he heads is not the National Hangover Service and should not be treated as such.

Given that any change in lifestyle among Brits is not on the horizon, what then is the solution to this problem? In a radio programme I had suggested that one way out may be for the entire population to embrace Islam but I could see that there were no takers for that.

So the NHS has come out with a novel idea of rolling out what the media has described as ‘drunk tanks’ or ‘drunk trucks’ to relieve pressure on A & E units who may be left to look after more serious and deserving cases. There are some cities, like Newcastle, Bristol and Cardiff, which have already been running what is described as Alcohol Intoxication Management Services during the fortnight spreading from say 20 December till the first few days of January, euphemistically described as the festive season. The ‘drunk tanks’ will be vehicles located near A & E units in hospitals and will consist of nothing more sophisticated than a bare bed on which drunks will be able to sleep it off. Paramedical staff or nurses may be available to assess if anyone needs more specialised medical care, but even this will have financial implications and there are those who feel that the state should not be made to go out that far for drunks.

If there is any danger that these people may be in need of greater medical attention, the results of such dangers should be borne by the drinkers, not the state and never at the cost of genuinely sick patients. It is therefore being proposed that the use of drunk tanks should not be free of cost, with charges up to £400 for a night, should it be necessary for the police to attend. There are also proposals to fine the bars or pubs which have been serving drinks, driven by nothing more than the profit motive, even when it is abundantly clear that the people the drinks are meant for, have clearly reached saturation point.

The drinking problem, highlighted during the ‘festive season’, is just one aspect of the breakdown of society as we know it in the affluent West. Many police stations have been known to complain that as much as two-thirds of the incidents they deal with are not due to real crime but things like mental health, drink, drugs, homelessness etc. So many people end up in police cells just because there is nowhere else for them to go. Doctors often complain that many people, especially older citizens, take an appointment not because they are ill but just need someone to talk to. One notices that time and again when in queues in shops or train stations with old people just not wanting to leave the person serving them. I recall one old lady at my local train station whose shopping bag I carried for her one day, seeing that she was unable to carry the load. She would then meet me at the same time every Friday, when she went shopping and speak to me on the train. She said that was the only time in the week that she got to speak to someone; yet she had a brother who lived only 20 minutes away by train but she had not spoken to him in 50 years. Before getting off the train she would thank me so profusely that it was almost embarrassing.

With the breakdown of family life, caring, like everything else, is left to the state. But caring is a human phenomenon and needs a human connection. That is something no state can provide.