Funding announced for drug treatment services in England and Scotland

Westminster and Holyrood have separately announced additional funding for drug services over the last few weeks. These commitments come after official figures revealed record-high numbers of drug-related deaths in both nations: in 2019, 4,393 people died from drug-related causes in England and Wales and 1,264 people in Scotland.

The approach taken towards reducing the number of people dying from drug-related causes has varied in each nation. On 20th January 2021, Westminster committed £148m new investment to reduce drug-related crime and health harms, claiming it to be the largest increase in drug treatment funding in 15 years. Of the total, £80m will be going to drug services and to initiatives to increase the quality of care for people in and leaving prison, with the rest intended for various law enforcement programmes. Whilst this pot of funding is only for one year, it does offer short term opportunity and an assuring commitment from Westminster.

Following the announcement, it was revealed that Prof Dame Carol Black, who is leading the Government’s independent review of drugs, recommended that the Government announce the much greater sum of £900m at the next Spending Review, to be invested over three years. The second part of Black’s review focuses on prevention, treatment and recovery, and is due for publication in the coming months. You can read The Hepatitis C Trust’s response here.

Scotland’s approach to tackling its record-high drug-related deaths – recorded to be the worst in Europe and three-and-a-half times worse than those of England and Wales – is more health-based, and its proportional investment significantly greater. In her statement, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, dedicated more than £250m to improve and increase services for people affected by drug addiction. This will include £50m for the next five years, as well as £5m before the end of this financial year to begin the work immediately. The Scottish Government’s ambition is that, among other things, this money will directly fund Alcohol and Drug Partnerships and third sector organisations, increase the number of people in treatment for their addiction, and widen the distribution of naloxone to prevent overdoses.

In recent weeks, Scotland has taken other steps to quicken its focus on reducing drug-related harm, including replacing former Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick and appointing a dedicated Drug Policy Minister, Angela Constance.

Responding to the funding, The Hepatitis C Trust’s CEO Rachel Halford said: “The announcements in recent days to inject much-needed investment in drug treatment services are welcome but long overdue. With around one in four people who inject drugs currently requiring treatment for their hepatitis C infection, it is imperative that drug services have the funding and incentive to test and treat people for the virus. This is why taking a health-based approach to drug policy is absolutely critical in order to improve the quality of the service people receive and reduce health harms.”