THE Welsh Ambulance Service is gearing up for one of its busiest nights of the year as revellers celebrate the start of the Christmas break.

The Trust has teamed up with police forces, health boards, St Johns Cymru Wales and local authorities across Wales to ensure ‘Black Friday’ goes off without a hitch.

Black Friday is the last Friday before Christmas and traditionally the most popular night for office parties.

As a result, it has gained a reputation as one of the busiest nights of the year for restaurants, pubs and the emergency services.

Lee Brooks, the Trust’s Director of Operations, said: “This is traditionally a very busy time of year for us and we have been working closely with our partner agencies to ensure we are prepared.

“While there are initiatives in place, our message to people is not to leave the NHS and emergency services to pick up the pieces by having too much to drink.

“Every minute one of our ambulance crews or call handlers spends dealing with someone experiencing the effects of excess alcohol is one where they could be helping a member of the community whose life is at risk.

“We’re not killjoys but we are asking the public to drink responsibly and enjoy themselves safely and most of all, look after each other.”

This year, the Trust has a number of initiatives in place to deal with the expected increase in demand.

In Cardiff, a Cycle Response Unit – a team of paramedics, emergency medical technicians and community first responders – will be out on two wheels providing treatment.

They will be supported by the newly-launched Medical Retrieval Team, who will be poised to respond on foot to emergencies in the city centre.

A Joint Response Unit – a car with a paramedic and a South Wales Police officer on board – will also be available to respond to emergencies, freeing up ambulance crews and police officers to attend to other calls.

The capital’s Alcohol Treatment Centre, a nurse-led service where intoxicated people can be assessed, treated and monitored, will open both Friday and Saturday, diverting people away from Emergency Departments.

In Swansea, the mobile treatment facility Help Point +, run by St John Cymru Wales, will treat those ill or injured as a result of excessive alcohol consumption.

And in Wrexham, the Hafan y Dref welfare centre, which is run by the British Red Cross, will offer a safe place for people feeling vulnerable or unwell on their night out.

At the Trust’s control room in Llanfairfechan, GPs and Advanced Paramedic Practitioners will assess patients over the phone and signpost them to a more appropriate alternative to 999 as part of the SICAT (Single Integrated Clinical Assessment and Triage Service) initiative.

Similarly, clinicians will also work in North Wales Police’s control room to triage calls, preventing unnecessary ambulance call-outs and freeing up police officers from the scene of incidents.

Steve Powell is a Fleet Assistant based at Barry Ambulance Station, whose role it is to clean and re-stock emergency ambulances.

He is reminding the public about the impact that being sick in an ambulance will have on that vehicle’s ability to respond to other 999 calls.

He said: “When there has been excessive alcohol intake, people vomit over the rear of the vehicle.

“That has a vast impact on the responsiveness of the vehicle, and I don’t think they realise this.

“It’s then off the road for something like an hour and a half, maybe even two hours, or sometimes we have to get another vehicle to replace it, which isn’t always readily available.

“Alcohol over the Christmas period will take that vehicle off the road for some considerable time.”

Excessive alcohol intake can leave both revellers and the health service feeling the effects not just on Black Friday, but in the days afterwards too.

Lee said: “The evening itself is obviously very busy for us, but the following day is also when we expect to see 999 calls from people with a hangover.

“999 is for life-threatening emergencies only, not for people with a sore head through alcohol.”

“The safest way to enjoy alcohol is not to drink on an empty stomach; alternate water and soft drinks with alcoholic ones.

“Make sure your medicine cabinet is fully stocked to see you through the after-effects too.”

If you are ill or injured as a result of alcohol but you do not require an emergency ambulance, call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47 (or 111 if it’s available in your area) for help in the first instance.

Visit www.nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk for more information about services in your area.

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