Drug services see reduction in frontline staff

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Marcus Roberts

More than half (53 per cent) of respondents to DrugScope’s latest State of the sector survey have reported a reduction in the number of frontline staff, the charity states, with 40 per cent also reporting fewer managers and back office workers.

Based on a survey of 189 community, residential and prison services from across England, the State of the sector 2014-15 report records an average net funding reduction of 16.5 per cent – although this masked ‘volatility and local variation’ – following the previous State of the sector document’s finding of ‘no clear signs’ of widespread disinvestment (DDN, March 2014, page 4). The new report also paints a picture of uncertainty around jobs and services, and de-motivated staff, with ‘rapid commissioning cycles’ one of the key concerns. Many respondents were worried that this could put clients at risk.

More than half of community services stated that they had been through tendering or contract renegotiation since September 2013, with a further 49 per cent expecting this to happen by September this year. The main gaps in provision identified by the report were housing support, dual diagnosis/complex needs and services for older clients, while more than 60 per cent of respondents also reported an increase in the use of volunteer ‘recovery champions’ and 47 per cent increased use of other volunteers.

‘This is a period of far-reaching change for the services in our communities who support individuals and families affected by drug and alcohol problems,’ said DrugScope chief executive Marcus Roberts. ‘They are now part of a wider public health agenda, at a time when local authorities have increased discretion over their spending and are managing cuts to their budgets. It comes as no surprise that substantial disinvestment is expected and being planned for by service providers, nor that this will vary from place to place, with some areas more badly affected than others.’

The findings highlighted ‘the impact of the constant cycle of local commissioning and recommissioning, which many respondents felt was disruptive to services and harmful both to clients and staff’, he continued. ‘Over three quarters of those surveyed were working to contracts of three years or less; one in four respondents reported that their contracts were getting shorter.’ It was vital, he stressed, that ‘the benefits of effective drug and alcohol treatment that have been built up over decades are not lost in the coming years’.

Meanwhile, the prime minister has commissioned the Department of Health’s Prof Dame Carol Black to conduct a review into whether people with drug or alcohol problems should have their sickness benefits cut if they refuse to enter treatment. Around 100,000 people with long-term conditions such as substance problems or obesity currently claim sickness benefits, which has attracted controversy in sections of the press.