Alcohol abuse among students, and use of the emergency services, has reached unprecedented levels in Oxford, a Cherwell investigation can reveal.
Almost three quarters of Oxford students know someone who had to go to hospital due to excessive alcohol consumption. Many feel their degree suffers on account of alcohol abuse, and 71% feel they drink too much.
To uncover the pervasive student drinking culture, Cherwell spent a night shift with paramedics on an ambulance stationed in Oxford. The evening exposed the real emergencies that the paramedics and their teams deal with, outside the bubble of student life.
James Keating-Wilkes, the Communications Manager of the South Central Ambulance Service explained, “Student alcohol abuse is a definite strain on ambulances. It takes resources which could be deployed to genuine medical emergencies.
“There is ubiquitous alcohol use among young people. Things seem to have changed. Young people today don’t think they’ve had a good night unless they’ve passed out.”
Most alcohol related incidents are classified as A8, the highest level of emergency that must be responded to within eight minutes.
Overuse of the services is not the only problem. Abuse of ambulance personnel is just as common.
Mike Medcraft, an Emergency Care Assistant said, “With drunks I have two rules: don’t throw up on my ambulance and don’t throw up on me. If they are violent I throw them out, simple. You’d be surprised at how many of us have been assaulted.”
“I’ve been spat at, verbally abused, and pushed. Of course, students got drunk in my youth too, but we always got home ourselves. It’s the mentality of youth that has changed; now people call an ambulance at the drop of a hat,” explained an Ambulance Technician with 22 years of experience.
There are differences in the typical behaviour of intoxicated male and female students.
Jones said, “Violence and aggression is common among boys. The other night there was a fight involving some Philosophy and Law students on George Street, outside a kebab van. One boy was punched so hard that his cheek bone was pushed in and his eyeball pushed up- I couldn’t believe a punch could actually do that.
“Girls do not tend to get into fights; instead, they drink so much they pass out on the street or have panic attacks, where they totally lose control and hyperventilate.”
An officer from Thames Valley Police added, “I’ve seen boys’ fights resulting in broken jaws and charges of GBR. As for girls, we have rape reports once or twice a month, and reports of sexual assault from females walking home alone at night are, sadly, a weekly occurrence.”
The police officer explained that where possible, they try to avoid pressing charges because they do not wish to put students’ degrees and careers in jeopardy.
The officer explained, “We don’t want to start criminalising. A lot of students are dealt with by a public disorder £80 fine; I give out about five of these a week.
“We are encouraged to report all student incidents to the Internal Discipline Action Officer, who can pass the information on to the University. The funny thing is, the Colleges often have harsher punishments than we do.”
At the John Radcliffe Hospital, the Sister in charge of the A&E ward, Hilary Wakey said, “Students expect us to babysit for their drunken friends. They arrive in such a state.”
“I’ve been spat at, verbally abused, and pushed “
Sandra Treacher, Paramedic and Clinical Supervisor, explained the exasperation felt by her staff regarding the overuse of emergency facilities by students. “Once someone has dialled 999, we are legally obliged to answer their call. But half the time it’s just unnecessary, and they just want a jolly ride home.”
Hope Jones, Emergency Care Assistant, echoed her colleague’s sentiments. “On the one hand we get an eighty year old woman who had collapsed but does not call an ambulance, because she does not want to put anyone to trouble. And on the other hand, we get students who use us as a taxi service. If it’s not an emergency, they should make their own way to hospital in a taxi. It’s terrible when you have to start stacking emergency calls.”
Towards the end of Cherwell’s night on the ambulance, the paramedics were called to Cowley, where an Oxford Brookes student lay passed out on the road, his face covered in blood and mud.
The co-driver of the OUSU Safety Bus had spotted him there. His friend and housemate, Michael Barringder, accompanied him to hospital in the ambulance. He said, “We saw him when we came out of the Maccabees. He was really drunk then, we should have taken him home. It was pretty irresponsible of us not to.”
Back at the hospital, now approaching two a.m., twelve out of the fourteen patients in the waiting room were students who had somehow or other been embroiled in alcohol fuelled injuries.
“Students expect us to babysit their friends”
There was Annabel House, a Brookes student who had a stiletto heel go through her foot at Fuzzy Duck’s, and Dave Ashworth, another Brookes student whose friend’s drink had been spiked. A further two students were not able to identify themselves or what was wrong with them.
Two Mansfield College boys had been caught up in a fight at Park End, where one had broken his nose.
The issue is not whether students are more drunk than they were a generation or two ago, the NHS workers I met told me. The paramedics, the A&E staff and the police officers all object to the emergency services being used for a ride home rather than as a last resort, and the abuse they receive.