County ‘facing alcohol crisis’ as cash cuts hit voluntary sector

FRONTLINE staff battling soaring rates of alcohol dependency in North Yorkshire say voluntary sector cuts could turn the county’s drink problem into a crisis, some waiting lists having quadrupled since funding was withdrawn in April.

Staff at the Selby District Alcohol Service, which works closely with similar teams in York, has seen service cuts of around 40 per cent since April because of funding cuts to NHS North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust (PCT) and the Probation Service. Other valued voluntary sector alcohol services across the county are also struggling to balance their books.

Yorkshire now has the highest proportion of people deemed to be “increased risk drinking” – people who regularly drink to excess at home – in the country, the problem being particularly severe in North Yorkshire where six of its eight local authority areas are in the bottom 25 of all 326 in England rated for the problem.

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The spa town of Harrogate, where an alcohol support service recently closed, is now ranked second from bottom in the country.

As the PCT is currently conducting a review into its decision to cut commissioned services by four per cent back in April, experts are now urging more funding is reinstated before the problem spirals out of control.

Chief officer Linda Slough at Selby District Alcohol Service, which treats more than 120 patients every year, said: “It is very difficult.

“We have seen a significant rise in the inquiries coming in around alcohol dependency and the issues that arise from that.

“The result of these cuts is that we cannot provide the support to people who are suffering with alcohol dependencies and their families.

“North Yorkshire is already suffering some of the higher rates of alcohol dependency in the country and that is going to have an impact.

“We will struggle to meet this increasing demand in North Yorkshire and there will be a knock on effect to the community.”

The Selby District Alcohol Service has been hit by a cut of four per cent from the PCT – although staff met with hospital chiefs yesterday to secure additional funding for one of its alcohol treatment programmes – along with cuts from the Probation Service and a reduction in funding by North Yorkshire County Council.

The county authority says it has grave concerns over the levels of drinking in North Yorkshire and claims it has made the commitment to maintain the same level of investment in substance misuse as the previous year, although it is not offering any inflationary increase.

Health experts say the rise in drinking is being fuelled by a combination of people working harder for increasingly longer hours because of the recession and using alcohol as a pressure valve, alongside a growing cultural shift where it is increasingly common to drink to excess at home.

The cost to the NHS of treating alcohol related conditions is estimated at £2.7bn and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Guidance (Nice) has recently issued new guidance for better alcohol treatment across the country, claiming it can stop the drain on National Health Service resources.

A report detailing the outcome of the PCT’s voluntary sector review will be considered by its board at a meeting on June 28.

Deputy chief executive Sue Metcalfe said: “We recognise the excellent contribution voluntary organisations can make to health care and patient support.

“The review we are undertaking aims to make sure all the voluntary organisations work more collaboratively, focus on their core business, avoid duplication and to ensure the contracts provide value for money for taxpayers.

“We are therefore having joint discussions with the local voluntary sector and our two local authorities to agree on service requirements and how the numerous contracts could be reshaped and re-focused.”