I recently visited the excellent Passmores House residential treatment centre in Harlow, run by the charity WDP. The care and compassion of the dedicated team - clinicians, social recovery workers, management, kitchen and facilities staff - was plain to see.
I was especially struck by one service user who described losing a family member to drugs, but continuing to use even at the funeral to deal with the pain. Others described suffering serious injuries because of their addiction to alcohol.
I heard too about how funding for support has been cut back, about the growing waits to access services, about the pressures on peoples’ lives and their families from waiting years on end to access the support they need.
It’s a personal commitment of mine, as Labour’s next Health Secretary, to expand substance misuse services to ensure some of the most vulnerable people in our society are given the best possible chance of recovery.
There’s an urgent need for action. Deaths from drug misuse in England are at the highest level since records began, whilst deaths relating to alcohol consumption are 10% higher than a decade ago.
Today, Labour is releasing new research which finds that the number of people suffering from alcohol addiction is now over 600,000 and yet the number of people receiving treatment in 2016/17 was the lowest level since 2008/09.
To make matters worse, we’ve found substance misuse services are set to be slashed by £34million, as part of the Government’s wider cuts to public health worth £800m by 2020/21.
On current plans, 97 local authorities are planning on cutting treatment services for drug misuse in adults, whilst 87 local authorities are set to cut adult treatment services for alcohol misuse.
Shockingly, 80 councils have budgeted to cut specialist drug and alcohol misuse services for children and young people totalling over £7million.
This is the reality of Tory austerity: cutting treatment services for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
It is devastating, misguided and completely counterproductive.
It is pushing addiction services to breaking point.
The challenge for Tory ministers is to reverse these cuts to addiction services in the upcoming NHS Plan we are expecting later this year, and guarantee that drug and alcohol misuse services are mandated within local authority budgets to protect them from further cuts.
We are also facing a crisis in the addiction workforce, which the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs have described as “one of the most significant barriers to recovery outcomes.”
The addiction workforce has witnessed substantial cuts, meaning fewer specialist addictions psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and nurses. The number of training posts in addiction psychiatry has decreased by 60% since 2006, whilst a 2017 Royal College of Psychiatrists census found that the NHS had 20% fewer consultant addiction psychiatrist posts than four years ago.
Pressures on frontline staff are evident in rising caseloads and an increase in replacing one-to-one client contact with group work.
Tackling this crisis should be at the forefront of our minds, not just for substance misusers but also their families.
One in 10 adults lived at some point during their childhood with someone who misused alcohol and one in 25 with someone misusing drugs. Today it is estimated over 200,000 children in England live with at least one parent or carer who is alcohol dependent.
I’ve spoken out publicly about my own experiences growing up with an alcoholic father and I genuinely praise Jeremy Hunt for agreeing with the calls of MPs like Liam Byrne, Caroline Flint and myself to implement a strategy to support children of alcoholics. But there is further to go.
The next Labour government will undertake a major expansion of substance misuse health services to ensure the most vulnerable in our society are given the support, help, rehabilitation and care they need and deserve.
We will review the drug and alcohol treatment workforce to ensure the best possible road to recovery for those with an addiction, and introduce a fully resourced strategy to support children and families affected by substance misuse, underpinned by national minimum standards.
Because of changes introduced in the Tory Health and Social Care Act, substance misuse services can often be left disjointed from wider NHS services. Therefore, a Labour government will ensure better links with mental health services and insist local suicide prevention plans include action to address the links between alcohol misuse, deliberate self-harm and deaths by suicide.
By properly funding and staffing addiction services, Labour will ensure no one with a substance misuse problem is left behind.
Jon Ashworth is the shadow health and social care secretary and Labour MP for Leicester South