NHS Lothian chief warns proposed health service cuts will lead to ‘premature deaths’

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Proposals to cut more than £2.3m from drugs and alcohol support services across Edinburgh will “contribute to premature deaths”, the region’s top public health consultant has warned.

The Edinburgh Integration Joint Board (IJB) will meet on Friday to discuss its “savings and recovery plan” – with a host of cuts identified to reduce a £24m funding deficit in half.

Dr Duncan McCormick, NHS Lothian. Pic: Jayne Wright

Dr Duncan McCormick, NHS Lothian. Pic: Jayne Wright

One proposal to be considered is to cut £1.4m of funding from the Scottish Government for the Edinburgh Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (EADP), which is yet to be allocated this financial year – as well as a cut of £448,000 for the following two years.

But Dr Duncan McCormick, public health consultant for NHS Lothian, has written to EADP members and chief officer of the IJB, Judith Proctor, ahead of the crunch meeting – calling for all funding to be handed over to the EADP “in its entirety”. The Scottish Government has confirmed that its “full funding” should be given to EADP.

In his letter, Dr McCormick said: “To date, the IJB has released only a minimal amount of funding to EADP and for subsequent years the amount will be reduced to around £1m.

“The decision by Edinburgh IJB to reduce the funding to EADP will contribute to decreased access to services, and, increased rates of harm, including premature death from problematic alcohol and drug use.”

Drug addiction. Pic: Phil Nicholson

Drug addiction. Pic: Phil Nicholson

Dr McCormick also warned that some premises in the Capital used for addictions services are “not fit for purpose” and some patients cannot receive “essential harm reduction interventions” and “cannot be consulted in rooms that provide adequate privacy or safety”.

Drugs-related deaths are on the increase in the Lothians, with an average of 13 avoidable deaths every month. More than 100 people are admitted to hospital in the Capital each month with drug-related issues while admissions due to serious injection related infections are also on the increase.

Miles Briggs, Lothian MSP and Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, said: “The EADP is already one of the most underfunded ADPs in Scotland and further funding cuts could have disastrous consequences.

“Waiting times for vital alcohol and drug treatments across Lothian are already the longest anywhere in Scotland and it would be incredibly irresponsible to make further cuts to the service.

“The fact that Scotland has become Europe’s drug death capital is nothing short of a national scandal. Scotland is facing a public health crisis something which cutting the budget of alcohol and drug partnerships will only exacerbate.”

Patients in the Lothians have to wait longer for alcohol and drug treatments than any other local authorities in Scotland.

Green Cllr Melanie Main, member of the IJB, said: “This three-year Scottish Government funding is desperately needed to support some of our most vulnerable residents.  It will literally save lives.

“I will be asking for the details to come for approval without any more delay.     The funds must be used for what they were allocated and projects must get up and running as soon as possible, as  is already the case in other parts of the Lothians.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Given the significant challenges being faced around substance use, Scottish Government Ministers are clear that the full funding provided to NHS boards for allocation to alcohol and drug partnerships (ADPs) should be expended on the provision of ADP services and service supports.”

A spokesperson from the EIJB said “All savings proposals will be given due consideration by the board on Friday and will include impact assessments.”