Alcohol misuse services cry out for more funding

From: Concerned

Name and address withheld

Government funding of drug services has always far outweighed that for alcohol and yet, in comparison, the annual cost to the UK economy of alcohol misuse is vastly greater – by the Cabinet Office’s calculation, £25.l billion (2008).

For many years, psychological and medical services for alcohol misuse in Sheffield have been grossly deficient and nowhere meet demand – for psychological interventions alone, funding is now £86,662 for alcohol, whereas for drugs it is £836,490. This doesn’t make sense in view of the cost of alcohol to the UK economy.

It has been known to professionals for years and is now well documented that the cheap cost of alcohol is probably the most important factor in the increase of alcohol-related liver disease, particularly among the young. In recent years, alcohol services in the city have been ‘competitively tendered’ by commissioners, the Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT), the plan being to drive down costs. Tendering will also result in a driving-down of quality of services and is spreading like a contagion throughout the public sector. Underfunding has led to a reduction in the number of trained frontline professionals in Sheffield and one has to question the cost to the public purse of maintaining commissioning bodies such as the DAAT.

Also of concern is the Government’s interest in the drinks industry. Commissioners in Sheffield are keen to promote the city’s night time economy. Last year DAAT spent £57,000 of public money buying unbreakable plastic glasses for the drinks industry to use in city centre clubs and pubs. One presumes the industry can’t afford its own plastic pints.

Surely there needs to be government legislation to force the industry to do this? The Royal College of Physicians’ Alcohol Health Alliance UK (AHA) stated in a recent report: ‘...policies to address the nation’s alcohol problems should not be led by the drinks industry’.

Sheffield Alcohol Support Services (SAAS) is now part of the ‘recovery’ movement, an approach which harks back to the old mutual aid societies and has similarities with the AA model.

It is also an extremely cheap way for the state to ‘treat’ people with addictions, hence the warm embrace given to it by the National Treatment Agency and of course local commissioners who have their own ‘ambassador’ and mentoring schemes.

Recovery also fits nicely with Cameron’s Big Society objective. In fact the state doesn’t pay a penny – it’s funded by lottery money and sponsorship from industry.

Medical and psychological substance misuse professionals in the city work with some of the most complex and vulnerable members of society. Self-help groups are a very welcome addition to professional one-to-one care which is tailor-made to meet individual need and where the goal is long lasting change. Groups cannot replace such provision!

There can often be a fine line between organisations encouraging volunteers and exploitation of vulnerable people who themselves are still adjusting to life without alcohol. ‘Mentors’ and ‘coaches’ must be well trained and most importantly well supported, as they themselves could be at risk from relapse in their efforts to help other vulnerable people.

They are not a replacement for qualified and skilled professionals. Why is it so acceptable to ‘herd’ addicted people into large community environments?

The recovery movement is keen to promote the idea of removing stigma from addiction, yet by continuing to treat addicted people in this way it is continuing to stigmatise them! They have as much a right as anyone to skilled one-to-one provision.

Mr Cundall’s assertion (Telegraph, Aug-ust 4) that ‘treatment’ services tend to focus on the ‘negative emphasis of just managing’ a person’s alcohol addiction, is simply not true – professionals work in an extremely person-centred and positive way.

Ask clients themselves! I would also query various SASS claims made in the article, eg that they worked with 2,000 people last year and that ‘97% of service users have shown an improvement’. It would be good to see some evidence of this.

There needs to be public pressure put on the Government to greatly increase funding and a redistribution of funds to frontline services. As stated by the AHA, ‘An extra £217 million invested in alcohol services – double the current level – would bring about an annual saving of £1.7 billion for the NHS in England’.