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Jon Ashworth: Alcohol addiction services will no longer be neglected

The Labour Party has promised to strengthen links between addiction services and mental health services if it comes to power, matching one of the recommendations in the Alcohol and mental health report published by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and Centre for Mental Health.

The party plans to create a Substance Misuse Strategy, which would include taking steps to address the links between alcohol misuse, deliberate self-harm and deaths by suicide.

The pledge was made by Shadow Health and Social Care Secretary Jon Ashworth in his address to the National Substance Misuse Conference in Birmingham.

He told the audience: ‘When deaths from drugs are at their highest level, when, as our new research shows, 600,000 are dependent on alcohol needing treatment and over a million hospital admissions a year are alcohol related, when 200,000 are growing up, like I did with a parent who has an alcohol misuse problem, then we have a responsibility to act.

‘Not just for the sake of those individuals whose life has been devastated by drug and alcohol misuse, not just for the children affected but for society as a whole as well.

‘My personal commitment and driving mission, as Health Secretary, would be that drug and alcohol addiction services will no longer be a neglected, under resourced service. The next Labour government will expand substance misuse health services to ensure the most vulnerable in our society are given the support, help, rehabilitation and care they need and deserve.’

87 councils will be cutting alcohol treatment services
to the tune of £7.9m this financial year

The Labour Party’s commitment to a major programme of expansion of drug and alcohol addiction services comes in the week that figures produced by the House of Commons Library estimate that just 13.3% of the alcohol dependent population in England in 2016/17 underwent treatment – the lowest level since 2011/12 – while the number of number of those who are alcohol dependent has now topped 600,000.

Labour’s analysis of the latest local authority finance figures from 152 councils has also found that substance misuse service provision has fallen, coinciding with the current government’s cuts to addiction budgets. The party’s estimates a further £34m of planned cuts to services this financial year, owing to central government demands for councils to make savings. The majority of councils in the analysis (87) will scrap alcohol treatment services in this period, saving £7.9 million (illustrated).

Responding to the announcement, Andy Bell from Centre for Mental Health said:

‘For too many people with alcohol and mental health difficulties, the help they need is not available when they need it. Mental health and alcohol services too often do not work well together, leaving many vulnerable people with disjointed care or gaps in support.

‘It is vital that the long-term NHS plan brings about a change in this situation nationwide, working in partnership with local authorities to invest in effective integrated support. The costs of ignoring the problem are too great to carry on as we are.’