What state are we in?

A new, improved State of the sector report is underway and needs your input, says Paul Anders

Paul AndersLast year DrugScope, on behalf of the Recovery Partnership, undertook significant work to try to gauge the health and confidence of the adult community and residential parts of the drug and/or alcohol treatment system. The result was State of the sector 2013. Through a variety of means – an online questionnaire, regional events and telephone interviews – service managers and other stakeholders were encouraged to provide information about the condition of their services, how they’d coped with a period of significant change, how their partnership work was faring and what their outlook for the future was.

The resulting report gained significant traction. It received widespread coverage in both the specialist press like DDN and Druglink, but also in the broader voluntary and public service press, as well as being quoted by mainstream newspapers such as the Independent. It garnered ministerial interest through the Inter-Ministerial Group on Drugs, and Public Health England (PHE) took some of the key findings from the report as a mandate to prioritise housing and employment in its 2014-15 work plan.

The findings painted a picture of a sector in a state of flux. While there was little in the 2013 survey to cause particular alarm, many responses indicated that the process of change, driven both by changes to local authority funding and to the way that drug and alcohol services are commissioned, had only just started.

Some key findings included:

•No clear evidence of widespread disinvestment in treatment. Many respondents reported an actual or anticipated decrease in funding, but others reported an increase, albeit sometimes as a result of gaining business due to local authorities rolling smaller contracts together.

•Many respondents indicated that they were engaging with features of the post-2013 commissioning landscape like Health and Wellbeing Boards and police and crime commissioners.

•Respondents indicated that they were having difficulty in supporting people to accrue ‘recovery capital’, with employment and housing particularly problematic but some problems also being experienced around access to mental health support.

•Many participants were concerned about the potentially harmful and disruptive effects of frequent recommissioning and retendering.

Despite these challenges and more, most respondents were relatively positive about the future and some provided examples of how they’d changed their way of working to improve services, manage costs or improve partnerships.

 Looking forward

For 2014, State of the sector has been substantially revised, both to reflect the learning from 2013 and also to significantly broaden the scope of the work. While in 2013 we limited the survey to service managers from adult community and residential services, in 2014 we will be extending State of the sector to prison services and young people’s services. DrugScope has consulted widely with service providers, government departments, PHE and other key stakeholders to ensure that the questionnaires accurately reflect the characteristics of each part of the sector and the issues that they face.

The adult community and residential questionnaire has also been developed from last year’s, although changes have been kept to a minimum in the interests of being able to make comparisons with results from 12 months ago. By repeating the exercise, we aim to be able to learn – and say more about the pace of change and direction of travel, building on the baseline of State of the sector 2013.

However, while we were delighted with the response in 2013 when around 170 services responded, we would like to hear from even more this year, making the findings even more persuasive and useful to the policy-makers who in the end decide where to invest public funds.

We acknowledge that the questionnaires are quite lengthy, as we’re keen to capture a wide range of treatment and non-treatment related activity. To make it easier to complete, you may find it useful to have details of the following to hand:

•The number of clients accessing your service

•Details of your funding and the length of your contract

•Your clients’ support needs

•Any other services you work in partnership with, and

•To what extent your clients are able to access other specialist services.

All responses are entirely confidential, and there is no editorialising. While DrugScope can’t guarantee every comment a participant makes will be included in the final report, we take care to ensure that what is included is representative.

The State of the sector 2014 surveys will be launched in September. If you would like to discuss any aspect of the project, please contact Paul Anders at DrugScope – paul.anders@drugscope.org.uk. You can find the main and summary reports of State of the Sector 2013 here: http://www.drugscope.org.uk/POLICY+TOPICS/StateoftheSector2013

Paul Anders is senior policy officer at DrugScope

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