SEP (Somebody else’s problem) Alert:
Dr Clifford Mann, President of the College of Emergency Medicine, has devised a novel approach to relieving pressure on A & E medical staff by blaming police for drunk people at A&E.
The BBC reports Dr Mann saying:
Police should crack down on binge drinking to stop hospital staff being distracted by disorderly drunks, a leading doctor has said.
Dr Clifford Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said the “softer approach” used for anti-social drunkenness did not seem to be working.
Police could instead increase arrests, convictions and fines, he suggested.
Fair enough? What would you like them arrested for, Dr Mann?
“I think these people, by the nature of the disorder, they are distracting medical and nursing staff from looking after other patients and therefore are wasting public resources,” he said.
“I think they therefore fall into the category of being drunk and disorderly in their behaviour and the police can act to take them away.”
Let’s slow down and look at the law.
Drunk and Disorderly
Any person who in a public place is guilty, while drunk, of disorderly behaviour shall be liable to a summary conviction (s91(1) Criminal Justice Act, 1967).
The issue Dr Mann is missing is how “disorderly” is defined in law. Blackstones (2015) says at B11.204 that the words are given their ordinary and natural meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines, “disorderly behaviour” as: “unruly or offensive behaviour”.
Is Dr Mann’s “distracting” medical and nursing staff enough to make out the offence? I have many distractions during the course of my working day. I may not appreciate them, but are they “disorderly”?
The real issue is this – what happens if instead of taking or leaving incapable drunks at A&E, you put them in a police cell – just like the old days where people died as a result of choking on their own vomit?
How is a police officer expected to know if the drunk person’s problem is only too much to drink? What if there is an underlying issue? Does Dr Mann expect PCs to triage potential hospital patients to sift out those who are, “deserving”?
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) would suggest the answer to that is, “no”.
Code C requires detention risk assessment. 9C of the Notes for Guidance states:
A detainee who appears drunk or behaves abnormally may be suffering from illness, the effects of drugs or may have sustained an injury, particularly a head injury which is not apparent. A detainee needing or dependent on certain drugs, including alcohol, may experience harmful effects within a short time of being deprived of their supply. In these circumstances, when there is any doubt, police should always act urgently to call an appropriate healthcare professional or ambulance.
Yet Dr Mann wants police to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to drunkeness and, evidently, for police to arrest everyone drunk in A&E.
As the police would probably only be taking the seriously drunk to A&E as they are too much of a risk to be detained in custody, does Dr Mann suggest that a PC should accompany the drunk arrestee in A&E until that arrested person is fit to detain (i.e. sobers up) – hours later?
As the story has developed over the day, Dr Mann has gone on to explain that the problem isn’t only drunken patients, it’s their drunken friends, too.
We have a law for that:
Causing a nuisance/disturbance on NHS premises (s119 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, 2008)
A person commits an offence if –
(a) the person causes, without reasonable excuse and while on NHS premises, a nuisance or disturbance to an NHS staff member who is working there or is otherwise there in connection with work,
(b) the person refuses, without reasonable excuse, to leave the NHS premises when asked to do so by a constable or an NHS staff member, and
(c) the person is not on NHS premises for the purpose of obtaining medical advice, treatment or care for himself or herself.
This is aimed at, “friends and family” and is proportionate with its references to “reasonable excuse” and being asked to leave by either a PC or member of NHS staff.
Dr Mann, it appears, doesn’t want to have to be in the position having to ask someone to leave – as he advocates on the spot arrests for Drunk & Disorderly.
This is an A&E problem which Dr Mann would like to make someone else’s problem. Why not a twist on the old fashioned drunk tank as they have done in Bristol?
This would require a multi-agency approach and funding – which I suspect is at the heart of Dr Mann’s suggestion that the police are not robust enough when dealing with drunk people.