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Alcohol recovery bus to ease burden on A&E departments in Northern Ireland

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 15/12/2015

Health Minister Simon Hamilton with SOS Bus NI chief executive Joe Hyland at the launch of the new Alcohol Recovery Centre bus
Health Minister Simon Hamilton with SOS Bus NI chief executive Joe Hyland at the launch of the new Alcohol Recovery Centre bus

Northern Ireland's first mobile Alcohol Recovery Centre (ARC) aimed at easing pressures in A&E departments has been launched by the SOS NI bus charity.

The additional unit, which was trialled at the weekend, prevented at least five people who had taken too much alcohol from being treated at emergency departments unnecessarily.

They recovered in the mobile - an ex-Translink bus - before being taken home by a response team. Established eight years ago, the SOS NI Bus charity has helped thousands of drunk, drugged and vulnerable people in Belfast city centre with the help of 260 volunteers.

The new £145,000 ARC bus has an overnight facility which includes eight client beds, full showering and toilet facilities plus a high level communication capability. It is the first of its kind in the region and will take to Belfast's Great Victoria Street at the weekends to further help alleviate pressure on Belfast's emergency departments. There are plans to introduce two more SOS ARC Buses by the end of 2016 - one in mid-Ulster and another on the North Coast.

The charity has 260 trained volunteers and hopes to grow this to 420 by the end of 2016. 

Joe Hyland, chief executive of the SOS Bus, said the volunteers, who have been on the streets of Belfast for almost a decade, have seen a real need for something like the ARC Bus that can support vulnerable individuals with no local accommodation or way home.

"We are working closely with health and social care and hope to further develop this collaboration over the coming months and as we work together we make the city safer for everyone," he said.

"SOS Bus isn't about judging people but it is about providing a much-needed and very practical service to vulnerable and frightened people.

"Every weekend, our SOS volunteers find people in a really bad way, many times so intoxicated they can't remember how to get home.

"We're all about unconditionally caring for people while expecting nothing in return."

Health Minister Simon Hamilton said the new unit will provide an important addition to Belfast city centre.

"Through this initiative I would expect to see a reduction in alcohol-related admissions, which should help to alleviate the pressure this type of unscheduled care places on Belfast emergency departments at the weekends," said the health minister.

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