Health chiefs are urging drinkers to take it easy when pubs open on “Super Saturday” – amid fears Accident & Emergency units could end up overwhelmed.
Pubs, restaurants and bars will be allowed to re-open for business this weekend following a four-month closure.
But medics are fearful that hospitals could be deluged by those who overdo the celebrations.
They warned that A&E units, which have been largely free of drunk and disorderly patients during lockdown, can now only cope with about half their usual capacity.
In recent months, casualty departments have been redesigned, in a bid to segregate groups of patients and allow screening of new arrivals.
Doctors said this means they could be less able to cope with sudden spikes in demand, which they fear could occur this weekend, as pubs re-open en masse.
Dr Katherine Henderson, President of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: “We are nervous – we are bracing ourselves for this weekend.”
“We do understand that people want to celebrate, but we’ve got to do this carefully. It is slightly scary for the NHS.”
Police chiefs have criticised the decision to lift the lockdown at the weekend, saying the build-up to July 4 has created a “countdown to carnival” – which is likely to fuel drunken and irresponsible behaviour.
Dr Henderson said hospital workers were “exhausted” and fearful of what “Super Saturday” may bring.
She said: “Staff have been working very hard for a long time. If they see a lot of people who have thrown caution to the wind, getting themselves into danger, getting themselves into fights – that is going to be really difficult.
“We need people to apply common sense, don’t get yourself so drunk you can’t get yourself home,” said Dr Henderson, who said many A&E departments will bring in extra staff for this weekend.