Children with broken limbs and elderly people who had injured themselves falling had to wait up to 30 minutes for an ambulance because crews were busy dealing with thousands of Christmas drunks.
London Ambulance Service today revealed the impact of the 6,244 alcohol-related incidents it attended last December as it urged revellers not go to extremes over the party season.
A social media campaign showed how the 1,502 calls to unconscious drunks “trumped” 999 calls from injured children, elderly fallers and some car-crash victims and meant they got a faster response.
Crews arrived in seven minutes to people who had lost consciousness due to drinking but took on average 23 minutes to reach a child with a fracture or suspected fracture and 31 minutes to get to a pensioner who had fallen.
With the festive season expected to get underway tonight ahead of the busiest night of the year for emergency services next Friday, LAS chiefs sent out the message that “getting drunk is not a game”.
The LAS receives about 5,000 calls a day, an unprecedented level of demand that forces emergency dispatchers to prioritise those believed to be most at risk.
Alcohol-related calls accounted for seven per cent of all LAS responses last December, were the most common reason for help being summoned for people aged 21 to 30 and cost the LAS at least £1.25 million to deal with.
Priority is given to patients unconscious and not breathing – even if they have simply passed out through excessive drinking. Crews have to reach “category A” patients within eight minutes.
Dr Fenella Wrigley, medical director at LAS, said: “Every ambulance crew responding to someone who has simply had too much to drink, is an ambulance crew not responding to an ill or injured person who needs them.
“Patients reported to be collapsed and unconscious trigger the fastest ambulance response. It’s not possible to tell over the phone whether they have a serious illness or injury, or have simply had too much to drink, so we have to prioritise them immediately.
“Meanwhile, other patients such as a child with a broken arm, an uninjured elderly faller or someone involved in a road traffic collision will wait longer for an ambulance.
“We want Londoners to have a great time during this party season but, we also need them to look after themselves and their friends. By eating a meal before they go out, drinking responsibly and taking care of themselves, they can make sure our ambulance crews are free to respond to other incidents.”