A TEAM of paramedics will be based in Oxford city centre at weekends this winter in a bid to reduce the number of people ending up in A&E while on a night out.

With the Christmas party season about to get into full swing, the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) SOS Project will be providing medical care to revellers from its city-centre based mobile treatment unit from tonight (Friday).

SCAS bosses say the aim of the scheme is to help ease pressure on the already stretched A&E departments over the winter period.

The service has been operating each winter since 2014 and will run until January.

Last year 63 patients sought help from the SOS service with paramedics able to deal with over three quarters (78 per cent) of those at the scene who might otherwise have gone to A&E or called 999.

Project lead Craig Heigold, said the team offered a vital service during one of the busiest times of the year.

He said: “The SOS Project provides a valuable service at a time of peak demand for all local NHS and emergency services.

“I’m delighted that Oxfordshire CCG has once again agreed to fund the service.

“By doing so we can reduce the demand on our colleagues at A&E, as well as ensure that more Oxfordshire SCAS staff and vehicles are free to respond to non-alcohol related illnesses and injuries elsewhere in the city and surrounding areas.

“We can also provide a faster and more effective response to patients in the city centre who need us.”

Last year saw a significant rise in patient numbers (there were just 18 patients treated in 2016/17) however, Mr Heigold put that down to increasing awareness of the service, with Oxford Street Pastors and Thames Valley Police now, when appropriate, taking those in need of care to the SOS paramedics, rather than calling an ambulance.

Mr Heigold, who has been a paramedic since 2015, said being based in the city centre at the weekend meant the team inevitably had to treat those who drunk too much.

However, the SCAS staff also had to be ready to deal with all manner of medical issues, including fights, assaults, and panic attacks.

He said: “We’ve had sprained ankles, people wearing no shoes getting cuts on their feet, panic attacks in clubs, it really is quite a range we see.

“Undoubtedly some of these are patients who would otherwise have ended up at A&E or calling an ambulance."

As well as medical treatment, however, Mr Heigold, 35, said the team also provide education and advice to partygoers on how to get home safely.

He said: "We get a lot of people unconscious due to excess alcohol consumption, people who can no longer walk, people who have become separated from their friends – these are the situations we want to help avoid.”

The mobile treatment centre will be manned by two paramedics and an emergency care assistant each Friday and Saturday night between 10:45pm to 5:00am, with an additional service in place on New Year’s Eve.

Tehmeena Ajmal, systems winter director representing health and social care providers in Oxfordshire, said: “We are delighted that the SOS service is returning. It has proven successful in the past, and will ease pressures on the John Radcliffe Hospital’s Emergency Department (A&E).

“The service is available to anyone feeling ill, unwell or injured in the city centre, whether alcohol is involved or not.”