The disgraceful failure by the private sector to provide vulnerable addicts with the safest and best quality treatment available was exposed at the end of last month in a damning report issued by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
72% of private providers of residential-based detoxification were found to have been failing in at least one of the fundamental standards of care that everyone has a right to receive. Shamefully, providing ‘safe care and treatment’ was where the CQC found the most breaches: 63% of providers failed to meet this standard at the time of their first inspection.
Detoxification under clinical supervision is often the first stage of a person’s addiction treatment. Often difficult and unpleasant, it is vital that they receive the best possible treatment to support their onward rehabilitation and recovery.
And yet systemic faults were found in the way these services are provided by the private sector. Many were basic and entirely avoidable errors.
For example, some staff were caught giving paracetamol to people within their care more frequently than every four hours, despite the heightened risk of liver damage among heavy alcohol users. In other cases, staff failed to plan how they would manage fits during withdrawal, despite knowing that the people in their care were at risk of having seizures.
Training in basic life support, consent, mental capacity and safeguarding were all found to be severely lacking. At times staff were found to be administering medication, including controlled drugs like methadone, without the appropriate training or being assessed as competent to do so.
This is extremely serious. People undergoing residential-based medical detoxification from alcohol or drugs often have complex physical and mental health problems alongside their addictions. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the potential dangers of erroneous detoxification include fits and hallucinations, suicide risk and risk of prescription opiate drug overdose.
That’s why it is essential staff looking after these vulnerable patients are properly trained, follow national clinical guidelines and have appropriate 24-hour medical cover.
So what explains this appalling failure?
My own research in September revealed that the Tories have cut vital alcohol and drug treatment programmes by £43 million this year, forcing many people to turn to the independent sector for help. These cuts are part of wider damaging public health cuts, to the tune of £800 million by 2021.
Specifically, 106 local authorities are reducing their drug treatment and prevention budgets this year, with a combined cut across England of £28.4 million. Similarly, 95 local authorities are reducing their alcohol treatment and prevention budgets this year by a total of £6.5 million. Equally concerning, services for children needing help with drink and drugs will be slashed by £8.3m across 70 town halls.
Last month the Children’s Society revealed that parent’s alcohol abuse is damaging the lives of 700,000 teenagers across the UK. Frustratingly, at a time when demand for councils’ children’s services is rising, severe funding cuts from central Government are leaving more and more families to deal with these huge problems alone.
Yet without support at an early stage as problems emerge, families can quickly reach crisis point and the risks for the children involved grow.
The children of addicts must not be forgotten and supporting them is a personal priority of mine. Having grown up with an alcoholic father, I’m acutely aware that as a society we simply aren’t doing enough to deal with the effects of addiction.
We know that children growing up with an alcoholic parent can often themselves go on to develop problems with alcohol or drugs or suffer mental health problems.
That’s why during our party conference I reiterated my pledge to implement the first ever national strategy to support children of alcoholics and drug users.
We also mustn’t ignore other forms of serious addiction. My colleague Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader, has powerfully exposed the Government’s abject failure to treat problem gamblers.
According to the Gambling Commission the number of people with a serious habit has risen to 430,000, with a further 1.6 million at risk of developing a problem.
And yet, shockingly, the government has no idea how many problems gamblers are being treated by the NHS or how much their addiction is costing. Like alcohol and drug addiction, we must start viewing gambling addiction as a mental health problem and not a moral failing.
Theresa May’s mishandling of Brexit and her narrow majority in the Commons has left her with little ability or inclination to tackle these ‘burning injustices’ across society. Addiction treatment services have unquestionably suffered as a result.
Forcing people to turn to inadequate private sector treatment is entirely unacceptable. That’s why Labour will continue the fight to ensure our health and care system, including addiction services, remains public, free at the point of use and there for all who need it.