UK hospital admissions for addiction soar as treatment budgets fall

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MPs say freedom of information data reveals cuts ‘simply a false economy’

More than half of the local authorities in England have cut their budgets for alcohol and drug treatment, even though admissions to hospital for problems related to addiction are soaring, say MPs.

Liam Byrne, the chair of the cross-party parliamentary group for children of alcoholics, and Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, have both spoken of the trauma of growing up with an alcoholic father. They are among the MPs campaigning against the cuts.

The data comes from a freedom of information (FoI) request by Byrne to local authorities, which are responsible for drug and alcohol treatment in their areas but are struggling with huge demands on their limited public health budgets.

“Every child of an alcoholic comes to learn the brutal hard way that we can’t change things for our parents, but we can change things for our children,” said Byrne.

“But frankly that’s harder if addiction treatment budgets are being cut left, right and centre. What this year’s data shows is that it’s simply a false economy. We’re spending money dealing with A&E admissions when we should be trying to tackle the addiction that lands people in hospital in the first place.”

The FoI data shows that alcohol-related hospital admissions are up by 13%, with 39,000 more last year than in 2009, while alcohol treatment budgets have been cut by 4%.

The average budget cut for alcohol and drug treatment services last year was £155,000, but some were much higher. The largest absolute cut was by Birmingham city council at £3,846,000, which is 19% of its budget.

Islington cut the largest proportion of its budget, at 34%, amounting to £2,431,800.

Local authorities plan to cut addiction treatment services by a further 2% next year. That is an average of more than £75,000. Ninety-three per cent of local authorities say that addiction treatment budgets will stand still or fall next year.

The only positive news from the all-party parliamentary group is that 67% of local authorities now say they have services in place to support the children of alcoholics, up from 50% last year and less than 25% in 2015.

“As I know from my own personal circumstances, alcohol abuse can have a devastating impact on families, especially children,” said Ashworth, who told the Guardian in 2016 that the issue would be a priority for Labour.

“We are seeing more admissions to hospital where alcohol is a primary cause, deaths from substance misuse at high levels and yet, rather than expanding specialist treatments services, deep cuts will be imposed on them again. This fails some of the most vulnerable in society. Government ministers must reverse these cuts as a matter of urgency.”

The vice-chair of the parliamentary group, Caroline Flint, said: “Investment in addiction treatment services is about more than helping those patients; it is about preventing the chain of damage that scars the lives of subsequent generations.

“Breaking the cycle is essential. This cannot be achieved if the quality of treatment services cannot be relied upon. I hope ministers will listen to the patients and to the children of alcoholics and address this funding crisis immediately.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “All children deserve a stable and happy place to call home and it’s heartbreaking that hundreds of thousands of children growing up with alcohol-addicted parents in this country are robbed of this. Children whose parents are dependent on alcohol face a poorer outlook in all aspects of their life – from their education to their mental health.

“In December, we committed to fund the National Association for the Children of Alcoholics’ helpline expansion, so that more children in this difficult position have rapid access to support and advice.

“Robust Government action has led to a fall in alcohol consumption in recent years – but we remain committed to tackling alcohol-related harms and protecting the innocent victims of addiction such as children of alcoholics.”

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