Addiction services not equipped to treat the 8 million people drinking at high risk during pandemic, warns Royal College of Psychiatrists

15 September 2020

Addiction services in England are not equipped to treat the soaring numbers of people drinking at high risk during the pandemic and must receive a multi-million-pound funding boost in the upcoming spending review, says AHA member, the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The College’s new analysis of Public Health England’s latest data on the indirect effects of Covid-19 found that over 8.4 million people are now drinking at higher risk, up from just 4.8 million in February.

This surge in higher risk drinking comes at a time when more people addicted to opiates are seeking help from addiction services. Statistics from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) show 3,459 new adult cases in April 2020 – up 20% from 2,947 in the same month last year – the highest numbers in April since 2015.

But the deep cuts made to addiction services since 2013/14 mean the estimated 8.4 million higher risk drinkers and the hundreds of additional people with an opiate addiction needing help could miss out on life-saving treatment.

Psychiatrists are calling for the Government to use the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to work towards investing £374 million into adult services so they can cope with the increased need for treatment.

Prof Julia Sinclair, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Addictions Faculty, said: “Covid-19 has shown just how stretched, under-resourced and ill-equipped addiction services are to treat the growing numbers of vulnerable people living with this complex illness.

“There are now only 5 NHS inpatient units in the country and no resource anywhere in my region to admit people who are alcohol dependent with co-existing mental illness.

“Drug-related deaths and alcohol-related hospital admissions were already at all-time highs before Covid-19. I fear that unless the government acts quickly we will see these numbers rise exponentially.”

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: “The worrying findings from this report highlight the hidden alcohol harm crisis in this country. Before the pandemic, only one in five harmful and dependent drinkers got the help they needed; that proportion will be significantly lower now.

“The cross-party Commission on Alcohol Harm report, published this week, tells a vivid story of how individual lives can be ruined by alcohol – not just the drinker’s but their family and others around them. With the increase in harmful drinking in the wake of social isolation, unemployment and financial hardship coinciding with reductions in treatment services, the call for an urgent UK Government alcohol strategy is not just empty rhetoric – it is essential.”