Labour will ensure that every district general hospital in England has a fully-staffed ‘Alcohol Care Team’ in a bid to tackle “stark inequalities” in treatment for addicts, Jonathan Ashworth has revealed.
Speaking exclusively at a HuffPost UK Waugh Zone Live event at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, the shadow health secretary - who has revealed his own experiences growing up with an alcoholic father - pledged £13.5 million for the specialist staff.
Designed to support people admitted to hospital with alcohol problems, the care teams have been found to play a critical role in reducing future ambulance call-outs for patients, as well as the number of times they go to A&E or are re-admitted to hospital.
But Labour research found that at least 41 NHS Trusts in England do not currently have an Alcohol Care Team in place - despite estimations that giving each general district hospital three specialist staff could save as much as £42 million.
“For too long, addiction services have been left underfunded, overwhelmed and wholly unappreciated for the critical work they do in improving the lives of thousands of vulnerable people in our society,” Ashworth said on Sunday.
“Alcohol Care Teams are proven to deliver substantial benefits and yet there are stark inequalities nationally in access to these services within hospitals.”
Research has revealed that while hospital admissions related to alcohol have spiked by 17% over the past decade, the number of adults in alcohol treatment fell by 11,000 between 2013/14 and 2016/17.
Ashworth added: “Labour will finally give addiction services the investment and political support needed to transform the lives of millions of individuals and their families suffering the consequences of substance misuse problems.”
The Leicester South MP’s announcement comes a week after Labour revealed councils plans to slash public health budgets by £96.3m this year, with substance misuse services among the worst affected.
Ashworth told the fringe event that his whole childhood was “coloured” by his father’s alcoholism, explaining how he would have to go to the corner shop aged 10 to buy dinner because the fridge was empty except for “cheap bottles of white wine”.
But he said the moment that “broke my heart” was when his dad, also named Jon, announced two days before his wedding that he wouldn’t be attending out of fear he would embarrass his son.
“He felt he couldn’t come to his only son’s wedding because he would embarrass me, that he would fall over drunk, that he would say something out of turn. And he just didn’t show up,” Ashworth explained, adding that he was “furious”.
“I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him properly,” he continued. “Three months later he was dead. That’s what alcoholism does.”
Adding that he’s “not a big drinker at all”, Ashworth said that if he has a “bad head” after a party, he will ask himself if alcoholism is genetic. “I do ask myself that question.”