Blood & tears
When festive fun turns sour: a night with the medics in the Peterborough Care Tent
THE bloodgates opened at about 1.45am on Saturday.
An attractive woman in her 30s had been “bottled” in a nightclub, an alleged assault which saw her stagger into the tent in a dazed state.
Medical staff sprang into action, tending to the wound on her scalp and assessing her state. Was she in shock? How much did she have to drink? Did she have any existing medical conditions?
The background to the fracas, and what led to someone allegedly striking her, remained vague. A police officer stood nearby listening to her account of a night turned sour.
The next one in was Hans, an Eastern European, who seemed more preoccupied with his mobile phone than the gash across his eyelid.
Minutes later, a shirtless lad entered with blood pouring from another facial wound, his friend’s T-shirt splattered with it.
It had begun, and, for the next 75 minutes, staff in the Peterborough Care Tent – returning to Laxton Square for the second year – would not stop for a second.
For three hours they had watched a multitude of revellers who were free of work and in high spirits cross between the city’s pubs and nightclubs, without needing to intervene.
Staff from the Saferpeterborough partnership and St John Ambulance (SJA) sat reading and chatting, surrounded by about £40,000 of medical equipment, including rows of beds, ice packs, blankets, and first-aid kits including defibrilators and oxygen response bags.
A doctor, paramedic, nurse and five first-aiders were on standby ready to deal with potential intoxicated party-goers and vulnerable people. These would either walk in, be picked up by police, or directed to the facility by pub and club workers via a Citylink radio channel.
Nearby was an emergency ambulance and a rapid response medical car.
Emergency department charge nurse for Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Andy Howes went through procedures with less experienced SJA members, while hot drinks and slices of pizza were consumed.
The blueprint for the scheme was set out in Cambridge, where it has now been running successfully for five years.
It aims to cut down the pressure on hospitals on one of the busiest periods of the year.
Anthony Kitchener, who has been with the St John Ambulance for 14 years, said: “We hope people don’t have to use us, but if they do, we want it to be successful.
“If someone is unconscious through alcohol, normally an ambulance would be called, but here we can turn it around a lot quicker.
“Most people who are drunk are friendly, but if they aren’t, we have a police presence.”
The Eastern European lad came in at 1.50am. His eye was almost completely closed, a bubble of flesh between angry red welts.
The decision was made to send him to hospital in a temporary bandage, for possible plastic surgery. He would be the only one that night who would not go straight home after treatment.
Elsewhere, the shirtless lad was chatty and quite bubbly, despite his pain. He said he had been assaulted twice, by two different people.
The alcohol provided a crude painkiller before a real anaesthetic was applied – a needle plunged directly into his face – prior to stitches.
Last year a local businessman complained about the tent, saying that it had driven him out of business. But a quick straw poll of passers-by suggested they were in favour and our lad, now sewn up, told staff with a smile through puffed up lips that he greatly appreciated their care. He left for the kebab house.
Another lad tottered in with facial injuries resembling those of a vanquished boxer, alongside a girlfriend dressed as an angel, wings clipped for the night.
He was another alleged assault victim, and a few eyebrows were raised when he proclaimed he had been beaten by a bouncer.
His partner’s eyes were streaming eye shadow and she wailed that her shoulder was hurting, and that it was her birthday.
They left after 45 minutes of treatment, heading for their beds – he said he had work the next morning.
By now, the tent was swollen – like many of the victims – and staff alternated between cleaning, advising, sewing and calming.
An older man’s eye wound was treated quietly and a boyish
drinker was treated for a black eye, when a horizontal streak of yellow suddenly appeared at the entrance, hoisted by two friends or family members.
The thoroughly inebriated young man occasionally rolled sideways from his bed and vomited with a roar into a bucket. If anyone summed up the need for city centre treatment, it was him.
As it is, his dad swiftly arrived to take him home, and said he had seen it before.
The last arrival of the night was perhaps the saddest of all, two pretty girls in a state of confusion after one had allegedly been attacked – a spider’s web of blood streaking down her face from her scalp.
The wound was mended with surgical glue. The duo appeared bewildered by their night which had ended in trauma.
These eight people, several of whom had no idea why they were allegedly attacked and with no description of the alleged attacker, were the exceptions on the night.
Thousands of people took to the streets with no problems at all, and no wounds or regrets. Overall, Peterborough drinkers were responsible.
That was shown by a drop in numbers compared to last year, when 64 people were treated across four nights, an average of 16 per night.
In addition to the eight on Friday night, another three men were seen on Saturday with wounds including facial lacerations and hand injuries.
Of the 11, only one went to the city hospital. Without the tent, if each one was seen for an average of 30 minutes, it would work out as five and a half hours of treatment that would have fallen on hospital staff.
The tent will be up again tomorrow night, for new year revellers, and, yet again, medical staff – some of whom are volunteers – will be putting their new year celebrations aside to deal with any mayhem.
Speaking afterwards, Andy said: “The city itself was quite quiet, which we were surprised about, but working inside the tent is such a dynamic situation which can change at the drop of a hat.
“There were quite a lot of assaults to deal with, which is worrying, but not many people came to us with problems directly related to alcohol.
“Tomorrow night will be the biggest night of the period.
“We would tell people to enjoy themselves but stay safe – have fun, but be responsible.”
OFFERING THE SERVICE: The care facility team was made up of staff from the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, Peterborough & Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, St John Ambulance, Cambridgeshire Constabulary and Peterborough City Council.
ACTION STATION: Police officers outside the temporary care tent.
Pictures: BEN DAVIS
PATCHING UP: For one reveller it’s a bandage over a wounded eye, and for another a needle administering anaesthetic, causing him to wince.