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Prime minister David Cameron praises Norwich's life-saving SOS Bus as an "innovative" solution in trying to tackle the UK's 'scandal' of drunkenness

PUBLISHED: 08:06 16 February 2012 | UPDATED: 13:44 16 February 2012

Prime minister David Cameron, who has praised Norwich's SOS Bus (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Prime minister David Cameron, who has praised Norwich's SOS Bus (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

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Prime minister David Cameron has held up Norwich's life-saving SOS bus project as an "innovative" solution which is helping to tackle drunkenness and alcohol abuse in this country which is costing the NHS £2.7bn a year.

Mr Cameron, pictured below, yesterday outlined how the government will attempt to help emergency services “rise to the challenge” when laying out its forthcoming alcohol strategy.

Meeting with doctors, nurses, paramedics and police on a visit to a hospital in the north-east, Mr Cameron told how people in town centres, hospitals and police stations across the UK have to cope with the consequences of alcohol abuse every night and that the problem is getting worse.

But he praised “innovative” solutions, like Norwich’s life-saving SOS Bus project which was set up as a safe haven for drunk and vulnerable people in April 2001 following the river deaths of Nick Green, 16, and James Toms, 21, after nights out in the city.

Mr Cameron said: “Whether it’s the police officers in A&E that have been deployed in some hospitals, the booze buses in Soho and Norwich, or the drunk tanks used abroad, we need innovative solutions to confront the rising tide of unacceptable behaviour.”

Sarah Mintey, principal of the Open Youth Trust, which operates and manages the bus, based in Norwich’s Prince of Wales Road every Friday and Saturday night, said: “We’re delighted Mr Cameron has made reference to the service and to the sterling job the volunteers do.

“We’ve met with Theresa May and David Cameron last February and he was exploring then how they could roll out the project to other cities.

“For us the SOS Bus is all about getting people home safe and sound having had a safe night out. The vast majority of people in Norwich are doing that in a responsible way and there’s such warmth for the SOS Bus and for the volunteers.

“People know this team of volunteers are out there week in week out to make sure people have a safe night out.

“Any accolade and torch that can be shone on their role is a good thing.”

It is not the first time the government, which is expected to recommend higher “minimum” prices for drink as part of its proposals, has praised the SOS Bus.

In 2008, a film about the bus aired on an edition of ITV’s This Morning programme, on which former prime minister Gordon Brown appeared and it prompted him to call bosses of the bus to praise them about the great work it does.

But while the current prime minister is keen for other towns and cities to follow Norwich’s lead, he said there are others who have an important role to play in terms of solving the country’s alcohol problems.

Mr Cameron suggested £1bn is spent on accident and emergency services alone, dealing with issues related to alcohol abuse.

He said: “This isn’t just about more rules and regulation. It’s about responsibility and a sense of respect for others.”

Chf Insp Gavin Tempest, who is responsible for community safety at Norfolk police, said Norwich was fortunate to have an SOS bus.

He said: “We’re lucky in Norwich where there’s an established SOS Bus safe haven. It was set up because of deaths where people had a drink and drowned and it was meant to provide a hand rail to prevent that, but it’s much broader than that.

“Before the setting up of the SOS Bus the police were directly responsible for people who had succumbed to too much alcohol and it was our problem to deal with that.”

As reported in January last year, the number of people going into hospital with alcohol-related illness and injury has dramatically doubled in less than a decade in East Anglia.

Drink-related hospital admissions for both NHS Norfolk and NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney primary care trusts are increasing.

In the year to April 2010 there were a total of 20,633 admissions to hospitals in Norfolk and Waveney, up from 9,815 in 2002/03.

While the rate of admissions in the East of England remained below the national average, it increased by 14pc in the space of 12 months.

Provisional figures for April to June 2010 show that 4,069 admissions to the largest hospitals in Norfolk – Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, were caused by alcohol. That is 9pc higher than the same period in 2009. At the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston 1,405 admissions were alcohol related – 13pc higher than in 2009.

The prime minister called on the drinks industry, supermarkets, pubs and clubs to work with government to ensure that “responsible drinking becomes a reality and not just a slogan”.

According to Downing Street, there were 200,000 hospital admissions in 2010-11 with alcohol as the primary factor, which was 40pc more than than in 2002-03.

What do you think about Mr Cameron’s plans? Write to Evening News letters at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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