Addicts waiting longer for help to tackle drugs and alcohol

Public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick
Public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick
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Hundreds of Scots with drug and alcohol problems are waiting too long for treatment, new figures have revealed today.

There are currently 364 patients who have been waiting for more than six weeks for NHS help to tackle drug and alcohol addiction, around 14 per cent of all those seeking support.

According to the latest NHS Scotland statistics, some people are even being forced to wait more than 18 weeks for treatment to start.

Overall, the number of people waiting six weeks or longer to start their first treatment for drug or alcohol has risen by around five percent in the last year.

However, the figures also show a total of 10,550 people began treatment between October and December last year, and 93.9 per cent were seen in three weeks or under - meeting the Scottish Government's 90 per cent target.

The rate is higher in prisons, where 910 people started treatment in the final three months of 2018 and 97.8 per cent waited three weeks or less. And performance varies across health boards, with 10 meeting the 90 per cent in three weeks target, while NHS Grampian, NHS Highland and NHS Lothian did not meet the standard.

The figures come just a week after it was revealed that drug deaths in Scotland for 2018 might reach 1100 - breaching the 1000 mark for the first time.

Today the Scottish Conservatives said the war on drugs would never be won unless all patients seeking help received treatment urgently. Their public health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “Scotland is getting worse at providing prompt help to patients with drug and alcohol problems. This should be an absolute priority for the SNP government to sort out.

“Someone battling these issues simply can’t wait for several weeks to go by without getting some kind of support. It’s time the SNP changed its approach here.

“Instead of creating centres to help people inject heroin, or pouring millions into methadone programmes, it should be focusing on getting people off drugs altogether. That’s what the patients themselves want, and failure to provide help on time to those who seek it simply isn’t good enough.”

However, the government's Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said the standard for drug and alcohol treatment waiting times "continues to be met on a national basis".

He added: "The Scottish Government has invested over £746 million to tackle problem alcohol and drug use since 2008, with much of that provided via NHS health boards to Alcohol and Drug Partnerships for investment in local prevention, treatment and recovery support services.

"In addition, the new drug and alcohol treatment strategy is being backed with funding of an additional £20 million each year. The Scottish Government Alcohol and Drug Partnership Support Team continues to engage with the areas which have not met the standard for this quarter."

Scottish Labour's health spokesperson Monica Lennon said the government needed to declare a public health emergency as Scotland's drug and alcohol crisis was "ending thousands of lives each year and costing our economy billions of pounds."

And Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said urgent steps were needed to “transform the way we approach alcohol and drug misuse”.