London Drunks Get Ride on 'Booze Bus'

Aboard the Booze Bus, the dark side of London's merry partygoers becomes all too apparent.

Call them the binge drinkers.

ABC News went aboard the Booze Bus, a larger-than-average ambulance that picks up drunk people in central London and can handle as many as five patients at a time. The bus, officially called the Alternative Response Vehicle aka the Vomit Comet, is operated by the British National Health Service and treats only the inebriated.

According to the NHS, every day paramedics answer 125 emergency calls related to alcohol. Each year, 3,000 Britons die of liver cirrhosis.

"We got nothing against people going out, having a few beers, getting merry, getting tipsy," paramedic Brian Hayes told ABC News. "It's when it goes over that limit, from being a social fun thing to a burden on themselves and on society."


"It seems to be a culture in this country that it's fashionable to get drunk. [But] it's a time bomb that is waiting to explode."

That night, paramedics Hayes and Phil Guthrie were called for an emergency in Soho Square in central London.

"We are going to a young male who is lying on the pavement," said Hayes. "The only thing we know is that he is conscious and breathing."

The driver turned on the siren and dashed off through the rainy streets of London, crowded with merry partygoers lining up and lighting up in front of nightclubs and pubs.

When the paramedics reached Soho Square, police officers were already attending the pale, 30-something patient lying on the pavement, wrapped in a plastic emergency blanket.

"Hello mate, you are all right?" asked Hayes.

"Yes, I am fine, can I go home now?" answered the patient.

"No, not like that, you can't. How are you going to get home?" said Hayes.

A few minutes later, as Hayes was asking the patient whether someone put drugs in his drink, the patient suddenly collapsed.

Aboard the Booze Bus, the man couldn't remember his own address but refused to be taken to the hospital.

(Paramedics call this the "shame factor," when people who have had one too many realize that the situation is not fun anymore and that they may be spending the night in the hospital.)

Shouting to be taken home, the man became aggressive, grabbing his head and shaking it violently.

Keeping cool, the paramedics convinced him to be seen by doctors.

"God bless you," said the patient.

"And you as well, and you," said Hayes.

In front of the hospital, the paramedics, like real-life angels, put the patient in a wheelchair. Twice he dropped his shoes. Twice the paramedics put his shoes back on him.

"This gent will be assessed by doctors," said Guthrie. "They will find out exactly what happened tonight."

That night, Hayes and Guthrie also attended a man found lying on a train-station floor, barely able to speak and incontinent, and a teenage girl vomiting in a doorway.

"We spend a lot of mopping up," said Hayes.

While these patients were safely brought to a hospital and taken care of by doctors, not all are so fortunate.

"There have been incidents where people have collapsed in doorways and have not been found," said Hayes. "They have been found dead the following morning."

Some of them die because of the cold. Others choke on their own vomit.

Paramedics told us they all could have been safe, had the people they drank with not abandoned them on the street.

"This made me realize that there are limits," said Hayes. "You need to take responsibility for yourself, for your friends."

Additional reporting by David Bassaluy.