“We must be bold, determined and innovative, working around or through barriers, making our case for further support so that we realise our ambitions for the world-class system we can and should deliver”
The first annual report on progress under the From Harm to Hope ten-year drugs strategy has been published, analysing the impacts thus far of the government’s funding and strategy around drug supply, demand, treatment, and recovery.
In the treatment and recovery sector, the results seen are perhaps the most mixed – excellent instances of good practice are highlighted alongside metrics which are yet to demonstrate major improvements. We have long known that delivering system improvements and building a world-class treatment and recovery system will require extensive effort and resource, which the voluntary sector is now in the position to deploy. We welcome and share the sentiment of ministers who, in their foreword, have recognised that “delivering complex and meaningful change takes time, determination and vision. We are in the early stages of an ambitious long-term journey and in the year ahead we must maintain the momentum to scale up our efforts.”
The Annual Report recognises many of the challenges that we highlighted in our recent submission to the National Audit Office, namely:
- Budgets for various elements of the drugs strategy have been impacted by increases in the cost of living.
- There are significant challenges around recruitment in the current, competitive jobs market, particularly in specialist professions.
- It is necessary that money is distributed in a more timely manner in future years.
The achievements so far
Despite these challenges, there are many positive developments highlighted in the annual report, including local workforce expansion of 1,670 posts, with recruitment targets exceeded for many roles and a range of products and programmes created to support workforce expansion. Workforce capability frameworks and a ten-year workforce strategic plan are in development, while the first-of-its kind national workforce census has been published.
Furthermore, the target of 5,000 more young people in treatment by 2024/25 is on track to be met, while an additional three inpatient detox units will be opening, including a women-only unit able to provide 900 additional detox interventions per year. The report also highlights a number of positive developments around incorporating Lived Experience into its programmes and initiatives, along with work on co-occuring conditions, housing and employment support, and in the criminal justice system.
The most significant information contained within the report is the commentary on the numbers in treatment in the community. The ambition for this is at least 54,500 new high quality treatment places by March 2025, however the numbers of adult treatment places has remained stable, with a <1% increase from 2021/22 to 2022/23. The report recognises the preliminary work that is needed before treatment numbers will increase, with a ‘focus from local areas on recruitment, reducing case loads and building the services, [while] there have been increases in specialist services such as residential rehabilitation’. While endeavouring to maximise on investment and increase treatment places within the community, it is welcome that the report should recognise the capacity and contextual factors facing the voluntary sector in this endeavour.
Closing the report, the government set out their steps for the years ahead as they look to capitalise on the foundations built in year one. In practical terms, this means delivering high quality treatment places across the country, continuing to build the workforce and improving the quality of interventions, while ensuring access to mental and physical healthcare, housing, and employment support. A further focus is ensuring effective and proactive pathways into treatment, particularly from primary care and the criminal justice system, and enhancing drug intelligence. Lastly, and very welcome, the government commits to ‘make inroads into tackling the stigma’ faced by people using drugs and alcohol.
What the annual report makes clear is that there is still significant work to be done, this shouldn’t detract from the positive impact which is already visible, even only one year in. Dame Carol Black’s foreword of the report states plainly what needs to happen for the aims of From Harm to Hope to be realised:
“Those who work in addiction need to be given appropriate resources and tools, and leaders who can bring about whole-system change. […] We have come a very long way since December 2021. […] But there is more to do and we must be bold, determined and innovative, working around or through barriers, making our case for further support so that we realise our ambitions for the world-class system we can and should deliver”
The impact of the cost of living crisis further emphasises the need for long term and sustainable funding for drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services.
The Sentencing Bill is shortly due to enter Committee stage in Parliament. It includes two clauses which would bring positive changes to sentencing by, if well implemented, reducing pressure on the prison system and ensuring that people whose contact with the criminal justice system is related to the way they use drugs and alcohol are able to get the treatment and support they need.
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