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Two months into lockdown, what have we learned so far?

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It has now been two months since the UK entered lockdown. During this time drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services have faced incredible challenges and tackled crucial questions to make sure services continue to meet people’s needs. The fact that services have been able to find solutions to these and other problems is testament to both the sector’s innovative strength and the dedication of its key workers. But now we need to ask ourselves about the next steps for drug and alcohol treatment – what lies ahead for the people who rely on our support, and what will the sector look like in a post-COVID world?

We believe two key principles have helped underpin the sector’s response to the pandemic, and should continue to provide shape to our field’s future existence – innovation and collaboration.

The drug and alcohol treatment sector has always been a champion of innovation and flexibility when it comes to designing services around people’s needs. It’s how we give them the best chance of managing their substance misuse problems. This flexibility has been crucial in recent months. It has allowed us to keep people supplied with life-saving OST medication and food. It has helped us create safe spaces for women and children fleeing abuse and violence. And, almost overnight, it has allowed the sector to shift to digital ways of working, so frontline staff can maintain crucial relationships with their clients and support them in their recovery.

Meanwhile, collaboration has helped the sector respond, not just at national policy levels, but also at local levels. Because it’s at these levels that drug and alcohol services have established themselves as key partners in cross-sector initiatives which support some of the most vulnerable people in society. The London Hotels Drugs and Alcohol Service, brought together to provide treatment for people living in hotels under the Government’s rough sleeping initiative, is a perfect example of the kind of innovative, collaborative response the sector is capable of. Similarly in Dorset, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust is working with drug and alcohol partners and the local Public Health team so that council delivery drivers can provide vulnerable service users with OST medications. And across the country, there are many other examples of such collaboration.

Looking beyond our own sector, the positive energy of innovation and collaboration has also fuelled the nation’s resurgence in community mutual aid and communitarian activities. Within this, the nation’s appreciation for our health and care workers – previously seen by many as low-skilled – is at the fore, and the key role of the voluntary sector has also been highlighted. At Collective Voice, we want to make sure our sector taps into this positive energy by supporting people and organisations to think about a drug and alcohol treatment sector that continues to collaborate and innovate.

A longer version of this piece is available in the latest DDN magazine.

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Collective Voice is the national charity working to improve England’s drug and alcohol treatment and recovery systems