Treatment services risk being overwhelmed, warns royal college

England’s addiction services are not equipped to deal with the ‘soaring numbers’ of people drinking at high risk levels during the pandemic, warns the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych). Treatment services should be given ‘a multi-million pound funding boost’ in the upcoming spending review to reverse years of harmful cuts, it states.

Almost one in five adults were drinking above the recommended weekly guidelines in June – around 8.5m people – up from just one in ten in February, while the number seeking help for opiate issues is at its highest level for five years, according to RCPsych’s analysis of data from Public Health England and NDTMS. People with alcohol use disorder are also more likely to develop serious complications if they become infected with COVID-19, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, the royal college warns.

Prof Julia Sinclair: Government needs to act quickly or death rates will ‘rise exponentially’.

A recent RCPsych report, Next steps for funding mental health care in England, also called for an extra £43m for children’s drug and alcohol services along with £30m to improve existing ones.

‘COVID-19 has shown just how stretched, under-resourced and ill-equipped addiction services are to treat the growing numbers of vulnerable people living with this complex illness,’ said chair of the royal college’s addictions faculty, Prof Julia Sinclair. ‘There are now only five NHS inpatient units in the country and no resource anywhere in my region to admit people who are alcohol dependent with co-existing mental illness. Drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at all-time highs before COVID-19. I fear that unless the government acts quickly we will see these numbers rise exponentially.’

‘It is understandable that the government is focussing on the most immediate harms of the pandemic,’ added executive director at Change Grow Live, Nic Adamson. ‘However, it is now essential that the government acts to address this increase in higher-risk drinking. The stakes have never been higher. Unless we have the capacity to reach and support over 3m more people who are now higher risk, the long-term implications for public health will be disastrous. As the UK’s largest national provider of drug and alcohol treatment services, we are calling for the government to urgently prioritise the support people need in the next spending review.’

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