Investment needed in addiction services post-pandemic

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned that addiction services are not equipped to treat the soaring numbers of people drinking at high risk during the pandemic and must receive a multi-million-pound funding boost in the upcoming Spending Review.

New analysis of Public Health England’s latest data on the indirect effects of coronavirus found that over 8.4 million people are now drinking at higher risk, up from just 4.8 million in February.

The college sats that this surge in higher risk drinking comes at a time when more people addicted to opiates are seeking help from addiction services. Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) show 3,459 new adult cases in April 2020 - up 20 per cent from 2,947 in the same month last year - the highest numbers in April since 2015.

However, deep cuts made to addiction services since 2013/14 mean the estimated 8.4 million higher risk drinkers and the hundreds of additional people with an opiate addiction needing help could miss out on life-saving treatment.

Psychiatrists are calling for the government to use the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to work towards investing £374 million into adult services so they can cope with the increased need for treatment.

A recent report also made the case for an additional £43 million for children’s drug and alcohol services and £30 million for new buildings and updates to existing ones - also known as capital projects.

Adrian James, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Addiction services have been starved of funding in recent years meaning many are not able to treat and care for the huge numbers of people who are drinking at high risk.

“More lives will be needlessly lost to addiction unless the government acts now and commits to substantial investment in public health, including adult addiction services, in the Spending Review. I urge the government to implement the recommendations in our report which would see mental health services expand to be the biggest in Europe, with a much-needed focus on tackling inequalities.”

Responsibility for the delivery and funding of addiction services was taken out of the NHS and given to local authorities following legislative changes in 2012. Following the move to local authorities, funding for addiction services in England for adults and young people combined fell by £234 million (25 per cent) in real terms from 2013/14 to 2018/19.

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Councils are absolutely committed to ensuring that all those who need help with alcohol and drug addiction get the right support and treatment, but as this report states they need long-term government investment in public health services to do so. This includes helping vulnerable people being given another chance to find work, rebuild relationships, improve their physical and mental health and find safe and secure accommodation.

“It is clear that public health funding for councils, which provides drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services, represents value for money and helps to relieve pressures on other public services such as criminal justice and the NHS, further down the line. The forthcoming Spending Review needs to see significant and sustainable investment in public health, including a reversal of councils’ £700 million grant funding reductions since 2015, to keep providing the essential services which help people stay healthy and free of addiction.”