mental illness addiction

Ruinous Cuts To Addiction Services

by Brian Woods

The Health and Social Care Act was passed in 2012. At the time it was hailed as, “…the most extensive reorganisation of the structure of the National Health Service in England to date.“ A bold claim indeed. However, the Act has had a catastrophic effect on people who are seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction.

In less than a decade the number of drug deaths in England and Wales has almost doubled. In 2012, 2,597 deaths were recorded. But by 2021 this had risen to 4,859 deaths. Added to this is the soaring number of deaths from alcohol addiction.

Since 2010 every Conservative government has cut funding at local authority level for addiction treatment services. In 2013, the Health and Social Care Act stopped funding for treatment services from central government. They were transferred instead to the discretion of local authorities.

Unfortunately, our local authorities have been under extreme financial pressure. This is due to a decade of austerity, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current cost of living crisis. This has meant that 60 per cent of local authorities have cut their funding for drug and alcohol addiction treatment services. A third of the money set aside for addiction treatment services was cut by some local authorities.

As Professor David Nutt, (a former government drug advisor), has said; “…these services have been denigrated to a sort of subsidiary level by being moved out of health care and into social care.“

It is sometimes easy to get lost in the statistics. We tend to forget that individual lives are affected by these financial cuts. One such was recently featured on Sky News. Having been addicted to drugs and alcohol for 20 years, Craig reached out for help ten years ago. He is still waiting to get it.

Professor Colin Drummond is Head of the Alcohol Research Group and Consultant Psychiatrist at the National Addiction Centre. Professor Drummond summed up the situation when he noted that “People with drug or alcohol dependence are stigmatised and so their services are often the first to be axed.“

This appalling state of affairs has a knock-on effect on our already stretched NHS Mental Health Services.

Alcohol or drugs can certainly have a detrimental effect on mental health. Conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety can all be worsened by drug or alcohol abuse. For example, drugs or alcohol may be used to mask the symptoms of depression or anxiety. While this may work in the short-term, it ultimately worsens the underlying mental health issue.

People can find themselves in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. Addiction treatment centres often won’t help people with mental health problems. Meanwhile, the Mental Health teams won’t take on people until they have been clean of their addiction for a minimum of three weeks.

I have tried to cope with depression and anxiety myself in the past by using alcohol. Speaking from experience, I can honestly say that it did not work. Indeed, both my depression and anxiety issues improved dramatically after I was eventually able to get help for my alcohol addiction.

In February 2023, the government announced an extra £421 million in funding to improve drug and alcohol addiction treatment and recovery. According to a press release from this means that total local authority funding for treatment will have increased by 40 per cent between 2020 to 2025. This will enable the creation of over 50,000 high-quality places in drug and alcohol treatment.

This extra funding is of course welcome. However, it also has to be seen in the light of the savage cuts that have lasted for more than a decade. More money needs to be found. If it is not then extra pressure will be put on NHS Mental Health Services, as well as other organisations – including Hammersley Homes. And even more people will die needlessly.