Addiction Support Service: North-west

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 26th April 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Karen Mullan Karen Mullan Sinn Féin 2:15 pm, 26th April 2021

4. Ms Mullan asked the Minister of Health for an update on the provision of an addiction support service in the north-west. (AQO 1922/17-22)

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

12. Mr Durkan asked the Minister of Health for his assessment of addiction services in the north-west. (AQO 1930/17-22)

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will take questions 4 and 12 together, and I ask for additional time to give my answer.

Alcohol and drugs services across the north-west are provided through a combination of primary and secondary care services that are commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board, along with the prevention, treatment and support services that are commissioned by the Public Health Agency. All those are in line with the regional alcohol and drugs commissioning framework, Northern Ireland's overarching public health strategy, 'Making Life Better' and the Executive's current substance use strategy, the 'New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs Phase 2'. Resources for alcohol and drugs services will continue to be managed on a regional basis. Future funding for addiction services will be reviewed in line with the forthcoming substance use strategy, which addresses the needs of the Northern Ireland population as a whole, including that in the north-west.

The Western Health and Social Care Trust community addiction service consists of a core multidisciplinary team that is supplemented by a number of more specific services, including link and liaison nurses, opiate substitution therapy services, home detoxification services and an eight-bed complex detoxification and stabilisation inpatient unit. The service offers the full range of treatment options and receives approximately 2,500 referrals per year. For the majority of patients, where detox is required, withdrawal can be managed in the community as part of the shared care detox programme. The Western Trust is the only trust that provides a home detox service in Northern Ireland.

For the most complex cases, the Asha Centre addiction treatment unit in Omagh is one of the three regional inpatient complex detoxification and stabilisation units, the other two being Shimna House in the South Eastern Trust and Carrick 1 in the Northern Trust. Together, those three units provide 30 inpatient beds for complex detoxification and stabilisation across the region. Residents from any trust area can avail themselves of treatment in any of the units of their choice. The Asha Centre is an eight-bed unit that provides a six-week inpatient programme. It currently has seven beds in operation, with the eighth bed being utilised for isolation, if required, due to COVID.

That unit currently has a waiting list of 25 individuals for inpatient treatment.

As an independent provider of tier 4 rehabilitation services, the Northlands centre is part of the regional network of tier 4 addiction services for Northern Ireland, providing counselling, inpatient treatment and aftercare counselling services, along with support counselling for families, to achieve recovery for those with alcohol and drug addictions. Northlands offers a range of addiction treatment services, both residential and within the community, for individuals, couples and families with drug and alcohol problems. Most of its services are provided in its purpose-built facilities in Londonderry, with outpatient counselling services also operating in Coleraine and Magherafelt.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I remind the Minister of the two-minute rule. Given the importance of the topic, I allowed him to continue.

Photo of Karen Mullan Karen Mullan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his extensive answer. I also thank him for agreeing to meet Tamzin White, who recently lost her mum. You will hear from her about the lack of detox services in the north-west region, particularly for females, and the real impact that that has.

The Minister responded to me earlier about the New Decade, New Approach commitment. He said that funding will be decided by a joint board of the Secretary of State, the deputy First Minister and the First Minister. Will the Health Minister take forward, to that joint board, the message that this is a commitment that needs to be funded and that it should be a priority?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for her point. As I said earlier, there are a number of funding shortfalls in the "Addressing Northern Ireland's unique circumstances" section of 'New Decade, New Approach'. It is anticipated that the level of funding that is made available will not be sufficient to cover all the areas set out in 'New Decade, New Approach'. As I said, however, it is my understanding that the specific projects that the funding aims to support are determined by a joint board that includes the Secretary of State and the First Minister and deputy First Minister. To date, my Department, the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency have not been involved directly in that process, but we would welcome any further investment in substance use services. That investment must be in line with the identified need and the priorities for service development within the strategic commissioning and planning processes.

The Member is aware that the challenge is that there are a number of funding shortfalls in my departmental budget due to New Decade, New Approach agreements that were made without the necessary funding being attached. I therefore encourage her to lobby her party member, who is part of that assessment board, about the funding process.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answers thus far. My supplementary question is almost as similar as my original was to Ms Mullan's. I also look forward to meeting the Minister when he comes to meet young Tamzin in Foyle. Karen, the other reps and I look forward to that engagement.

Will the Minister give a commitment that he will use his office and influence, along with the undeniable evidence of need, to exert pressure on the Executive Office and the Northern Ireland Office to honour the pledge made in 'New Decade, New Approach' for a new addiction unit in the north-west? He will have no shortage of support in doing that.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member for his commitment to offering support. He is aware that there are many health-specific proposals in 'New Decade, New Approach'. I do not have the reassurance of funding in this year's Budget or the coming year's Budget. At present, no funding allocation is aligned directly with those proposals. Priorities and promises have been made by the Finance Minister with regard to funding those. It will be up to the project board, which includes the First Minister and deputy First Minister and the Secretary of State, to prioritise those proposals and the funds that are made available to them.

The Member will be aware that, as Minister of Health, I will push for as much of that money as possible to come in our direction. Many of the commitments in 'New Decade, New Approach' are necessary not just for the advancement of the health service in Northern Ireland but for much of the sorely needed transformation.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

There is time for a very quick question from Roy Beggs.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

A minimum price of alcohol can contribute to a reduction in the consumption of alcohol and in levels of associated addiction. Can the Minister provide us with an update on minimum pricing? If we reduce the consumption of alcohol, the pressures on our addiction support will be reduced.

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member. That was raised in the British-Irish Council statement earlier, because it was discussed at the British-Irish Council. I believe that the introduction of legislation for minimum unit pricing for alcohol could be a key population-level health measure in addressing the issue. Therefore, I have made a commitment to have a full consultation on minimum unit pricing once our new substance use strategy is finalised. That consultation will examine a range of possible options for alcohol pricing, including consideration of the emerging evidence of the effectiveness of minimum unit pricing following its implementation in Scotland and elsewhere.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 pm, 26th April 2021

That concludes the period for listed questions. We will now move on to 15 minutes of topical questions. Questions 6 and 7 have been withdrawn.