Alcohol treatment at crisis point, says report

A cycle of disinvestment coupled with reduced capacity and staffing levels means that the alcohol treatment sector in England is in crisis, according to a new report. The situation is putting ‘hundreds of thousands of people at risk’, says The hardest hit: addressing the crisis in alcohol treatment services, which is published by the charity formed from the merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK.

Rapid re-tendering cycles, lack of political support, loss of qualified staff and funding cuts are having a severe impact, the document warns, with the end of ring-fenced public health funding in 2020 likely to worsen the situation further and pose ‘additional risk to the areas of highest need’. It is estimated that there are almost 600,000 people in England who are alcohol-dependent and in need of specialist treatment.

The report highlights a real danger of alcohol services being seen as non essential.

The report is based on the views of more than 150 respondents including service providers, GPs, nurses and others, who reported funding cuts of between 10 and 58 per cent. Almost 90 per cent felt that resources in their area were insufficient, with nearly 60 per cent saying the situation had worsened in the last three years. Community detox and residential rehab were felt to be particularly at risk, and more than 60 per cent of respondents stated that appropriate care for people with both an alcohol and mental health problem was unavailable in their area.

In an era of consistently squeezed public finances there is a ‘real danger’ that alcohol services could come to be viewed as non-essential, the report warns, which risks both ‘creating a false economy’ and damaging ‘the lives of countless individuals, families and communities’.

The report, which was published on the day minimum pricing was implemented in Scotland, calls on the government to develop and implement a national alcohol strategy, and ‘urgently plug the gap’ in treatment funding. It also calls for a national review of staffing to identify the levels of expertise needed at each point in the system. While the use of peer mentors was widely welcomed, there was concern that many were being employed ‘without sufficient training and for economic reasons rather than to improve provision’, the report adds.

Dr Richard Piper: Government must develop a national alcohol strategy.

‘Around 595,000 people in the UK are dependent on alcohol,’ said the charity’s CEO, Dr Richard Piper. ‘It’s clear that the government must develop a national alcohol strategy to address the harm they and their families face, and include treatment at its heart to reduce the suffering of the four in every five who currently do not access the services they need. This report shows very clearly what action is needed and we urge policy makers, practitioners and service providers to join together to implement these recommendations to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are in desperate need of support.’

Meanwhile, people on higher incomes are more likely to drink regularly, according to statistics from two new reports. Almost 80 per cent of those earning £40,000 or above reported drinking alcohol in the previous week, compared to 58 per cent of all adults. For people earning under £10,000 per year the figure was 47 per cent. The total percentage of adults who reported having consumed alcohol in the previous week was largely unchanged from the previous year but almost 10 per cent lower than a decade ago, say Adult drinking habits in Great Britain: 2017 and Statistics on alcohol, England 2018.