Hospital Drunk Gets Asbo

From the BBC (and thanks to everyone who pointed this story out to me)

A woman who drunkenly abused doctors, nurses and ambulance staff in Leeds has been banned from calling the ambulance service in England and Wales.

Kathryn Gummery, 28, received the Asbo, which also bans her from the two main hospitals in Leeds, at the city's magistrates' court on Thursday.

Great, about time – people like these are a terrible drain on the NHS*.

An exception to the terms would be made if she had a genuine medical emergency.

Which will make this ASBO pretty much useless for the ambulance service. You see (and if there are any crews that know her, please let me know if I'm wrong) I would imagine that most calls to her are 'female collapsed in street'. Or even 'female with chest pain'. Either of these are emergency calls. Maybe she phones herself, in which case I'm sure that she has realised that saying yes to the question 'have you got chest pain' means that she has an immediate ambulance.

So ambulance Control will no doubt continue sending to her, crews will continue running to her and they will probably keep taking her to hospital.

Why will they keep taking her to hospital? Because they don't want to be the crew who leaves her at home only for her to choke on her vomit or fall over and break her neck. Coroners can ask some awkward questions and in the normal run of things the ambulance crew would probably lose their job.

They don't want to be the crew who leaves her in the street only for someone else to call. And if they call the police because she has breached her ASBO, the police won't want her either because you can't have drunks in police cells in case they die.

And I find it hard to imagine a magistrate locking her up for the breach (if only because she is the 'victim of a disease'*).

What did strike me as funny (and all emphasis is mine).

Police, hospital chiefs and the council applied for the Asbo due to Gummery's catalogue of aggressive behaviour.

“We're absolutely committed to working towards the policy of zero tolerance when it comes to violence and aggression towards our staff.”



'Zero tolerance' indeed, if it needs a 'catalogue' of aggressive behaviour to force legal action of some kind.


*OK, here is the thing – I'm wondering where we draw the line on medicalising bad behaviour. It seems that everyone is 'ill' these days rather than 'bad'. Alcoholism is a disease, heroin addiction is a disease, beating grannies up to feed an addiction is a disease and being violent towards people is a disease.

Very seldom does the thought that some people may have become alcoholics or heroin addicts just because they were chasing a bit of fun at other peoples expense come into view. There is always some 'reason' behind it, some reason why they are the 'victim'.

There is a continuum of behaviour from 'ill' stretching all the way to 'just plain nasty'. At what point do we draw the line on the continuum where we say that the person isn't 'diseased', but is just a nasty person to know?

An alcoholic who refuses treatment, keeps drinking and is a drain on the NHS. Well aren't they just 'diseased'? If so, why the ASBO?

This is definitely a topic for a post on it's own.

19 thoughts on “Hospital Drunk Gets Asbo”

  1. Isn't the point of the ASBO that when someone breaches it you can send them off to jail for many, many years, instead of just the slap on the wrist that the actual offence warrants.I'm not a fan of them for that reason, but surely in this case the first time she calls an ambulance with “chest pains” and she's taken to hospital, all they need to do there is show that there's nothing medically wrong with her (other than being drunk and disorderly), call the police and off she goes to jail for breach of her ASBO.

  2. But who decides if it was life-threatening? If the 'patient' *thinks* it's life threatening are we to punish her for being daft?(That's the defense I'd use, that or 'so scared she panicked').

    So I can't see her going to prison unless she hits someone. In which case shouldn't she go to prison anyway?

  3. Wha I like about your blog is your ability to put a case in such a way that leaves us thinking for days afterwards. You also manage to provoke a discussion.As regards this woman. An ASBO is going to be of no use, so why drop one on her in the first place. Do they feel it will scare her into changing her ways? From experience I know one thing about those who are mentally ill attention seekers.

    1) If what they are doing doesn't work – do it more often and with more intensity.2) If what they are doing does work – do it more often and with more intensity.

  4. Like you say, an ASBO is probably not going to get anywhere. Surely the root cause of the problem is her alcohol abuse, which probably has it's root somewhere else (who knows where, but it would be good to find out). The only way problems like this are ever going to get solved is to find that root cause and deal with that. She needs evaluating to see if she's “mad or bad”.Stopping her from drinking would almost certainly help – and for that she'd need to be placed in an environment where she had no access to alcohol. That means going through the courts, and an ASBO *might* help in that. But only if the places exist for her to get her alcohol abuse treated, and the magistrate sees fit to get her the treatment.Simply banning her from using the emergency sevices just moves the problem to somewhere else (at best) and is therefore almost entirely pointless.Of course, I'm being rather idealistic. I doubt the facilities exist (or have enough resource) to do what I'm suggesting, but anything short of that is, in my view, just sweeping the whole damn mess under the carpet, and the people who suffer are the poor folk who work on the front lines (who are the first priority), but also the idiots themselves.

  5. These days, having an ASBO is more a badge of honour than something of which to be ashamed.I am personally of the opinion [and I stress personally] that the flagging that LAS has for addresses where there is a past history of attacks on LAS crews, should include a “two strikes and you're out” area. In other words, first time you attack one of us you get a warning (unless it's serious enough to warrant arrest immediately), the next time you are barred from calling an ambulance for a set number of years. Harsh, you might say, but why should these people be allowed to assault staff with impunity, knowing the worst that will happen is a worthless ASBO.

  6. As someone who lives in Leeds and has worked at the hospitals concerned I can say drunks are a problem, its not just one person.St James (Jimmy's from the tv series) now has a police station in A&E due to the increase in violence against staff. This woman is just an example of a bigger problem.

  7. It's good to be back on,ine after a 4 month break…glad to see you are still blogging Tom.We have patients that abuse us – not a lot seems to be done. Do all of these patients use the same excuse – chest pain? Collapsed in the stree? Do they all call themselves??

    We seem to have a lot of flagged addresses – so they walk to the nearest phone box and call instead!

    We are meant to fill out incident report forms for all the times we goto these people…a bit hard when we don't ever get back to station!

  8. I suspect this Asbo might be quite cleverly written ensuring that she'll break it very quickly and thus be sent to prison (usually why I'm against them too)It bans her from calling the ambulance service, but also from consuming alcohol (or any intoxicating substance) anywhere in public in the whole of the UK (apart from in a pub). She's of no fixed address. I would guess those circumstances mean she'll breach the terms very quickly and that the legal advisors would have forseen the potential of the 'life threatening' question which may have been why they did this.

    I think we need strong measures to protect against ambulance abuse, and a zero tolerance approach towards violence to NHS staff, but something about this makes me feel quite uncomfortable. Bendy Girl

  9. I work for police control and we have ASBO's for persistent violent callers as well, but they are always with the proviso, “however treat each call on it's own merits, a crime may have been committed” meaning if you fail to put and incident in and send the police and as Tom says, the person has suffered a crime/injury – your job is on the line. Therefore you create an incident & you always send the police. Its a farce.Its basically a cover your arse exercise for the management, if an officer gets injured and complains, they can say “we did protect you we got an ASBO”.

  10. I agree completely, there should be a clear line between 'victim of disease' and 'complete arsehole'. Currently there doesn't seem to be, in the same way that there is no line between 'someone who has been failed by society' and 'antisocial scumlord with no concept of personal responsibility'. Poilitical correctness has a lot to answer for.

  11. Just my two cents: I saw a Penn and Teller video saying that the concept of alcoholism as a disease was pretty much made up by alcoholics anonymous (don't even get me started on their success rate!).Alcoholics are no more diseased than a person who compulsively chews their fingernails.

  12. I have no idea who Penn and Teller are. AA did not decide that alcoholism is a disease but the World Health Organisation did. AA has a higher success rate than any other organisation.

  13. I'm no expert on this in any way but have discovered this interesting paper of which I can only read the abstract:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=1545723

    “Excessive drinking can cause physical disease and involve physical dependence without therefore being a disease itself.”

    “The specific disease concept, associated mainly with the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, is contradicted by empirical evidence and unhelpful for preventive and treatment responses to problem drinking, especially for the effort to detect and modify problem drinking at an early stage.”

  14. Sorry I have not had time to reply sooner. I take your point but I am still not convinced that you can blame AA for the label. Is this an American thing as that is where the fellowship originated? Have you read this definition of the word “disease”?A disease is an abnormal condition of an organism that impairs bodily functions. In human beings, “disease” is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes discomfort, dysfunction, distress, social problems, and/or death to the person afflicted, or similar problems for those in contact with the person. In this broader sense, it sometimes includes injuries, disabilities, disorders, syndromes, infections, isolated symptoms, deviant behaviors, and atypical variations of structure and function, while in other contexts and for other purposes these may be considered distinguishable categories.While many diseases are biological processes with observable alterations of organ function or structure, others primarily involve alterations of behavior.

    Classifying a condition as a disease is a social act of valuation, and may change the social status of the person with the condition (the patient). Some conditions (known as culture-bound syndromes) are only recognized as diseases within a particular culture. Sometimes the categorizaton of a condition as a disease is controversial within the culture. Therefore I think alcoholism qualifies as a disease! What I can tell you is that the vast majority of alcoholics are not the drop-outs we see in their mucky macs but ordinary men, women and youngsters many of whom hold down responsible jobs and apparently lead “normal” lives. It is a vast problem and people will not address their alcoholism until they are “sick of being sick”. If the want is not there, they will not get better. Sticking them in rehab, drying them out and then bunging them back on the street is NOT a solution. Those people who think alcoholics can wean themselves off drink are wrong too. As son as an alcoholic has one drink the compulsion to continue is set off. I have every sympathy for people like our EMT Tom, doctors, police nurses etc who are on the receiving end of the worst behaviour possible. I wish they could ignore the persistent offenders and leave them to their own devices. Perhaps they would seek help more rapidly instead of being enabled to continue along their not-so-merry way.

    There is a world of difference between problem drinking and alcoholic drinking. I do not see problem drinking as an illness in the same way that alcoholism is. Many people resort to drink to help them through a crisis and, with appropiate help, can learn to modify and control their drinking pattern. For an alcoholic ( who, lets face it, has to be mentally ill to behave the way they do), it is all or nothing.

    Sorry. I am getting on my soap box. That's all for tonight!

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