Commissioning Quality

The new national substance misuse commissioner forum will play a vital role in responding to future challenges, say Chris Lee and Prof Jim McManus.

Even through these unprecedented times, councils are absolutely committed to ensuring that people seeking help with substance misuse get the right treatment and support, as part of their public health and other wider responsibilities. 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.

Chris Lee is, public health specialist at Lancashire County Council
Chris Lee is a public health specialist at Lancashire County Council

But more must be done. Only a fifth of dependent drinkers are currently accessing treatment, while the success rates of drug services vary five-fold from place to place. What’s more, new threats are emerging all the time – one only needs to look at the drug-related death statistics to see that. We must not be complacent. Councils know more needs to be done in close collaboration with local partners to ensure everyone gets the support they need wherever possible.


The COVID-19 emergency comes after a lengthy period of financial and policy upheaval for the drug and alcohol sector. For example, those of us in local government have long argued that reductions to councils’ public health grant – used to fund drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services – is a false economy that will only compound acute pressures for criminal justice, NHS and social care services further down the line.

The Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) have jointly agreed to support the establishment of a national forum for substance misuse commissioners in England. While there are strong regional support networks across England, coordinated by Public Health England regional teams, the purpose of this new forum is to provide a strategic national space in which to bring together those with commissioning responsibility in local government, and enable a representative commissioner voice.

Prof Jim McManus, director of public health at Hertfordshire County Council
Prof Jim McManus is director of public health at Hertfordshire County Council

With many people currently finding new ways to work, this development will be a timely opportunity adding structure and support around the alcohol and drug agenda in England. It will provide a dedicated space to address the issues and concerns of those commissioning substance misuse related services and the opportunity to share ideas and experience or even just support colleagues.

‘The new national network comes at an important time,’ said director of public health at Hertfordshire County Council, Prof Jim McManus. ‘Bringing commissioners together to learn and share good practice is core to the improvement ethos of local government known as sector-led improvement, and will seek to bring some structured support to an area which has been neglected in recent years. Part of this will be ensuring we develop the best possible services and best commissioning practices. This is just one plank of ensuring we have a response to drug and alcohol issues and the need of our populations. But it is an important plank.’

With physical meetings unlikely to happen for the foreseeable future, the intention is to initially develop an online forum to bring people together and use Knowledge Hub as a central platform – it’s hoped we can physically bring people together at a future date!

Key objectives

  • To support the development of good practice and effective commissioning approaches
  • To enable commissioners to share information, intelligence, challenges, ideas, and to support problem-solving
  • To represent commissioner views on relevant current and emerging policy and strategy
  • To influence legislation and policy at a local, regional and national level
  • To enable national representation of substance misuse commissioners in relation to other sector organisations.

While planning is at an early stage, we would welcome expressions of interest to join this emerging forum. If you have any ideas to support this development or wish to register interest in joining, please contact:



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