New Clause 43 - Annual report on alcohol treatment services: assessment of outcomes

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 28th October 2021.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must lay before each House of Parliament at the start of each financial year a report on—

(a) the ways in which alcohol treatment providers have been supported in tackling excess mortality, alcohol related hospital admissions, and the burden of disease resulting from alcohol consumption, and

(b) the number of people identified as requiring support who are receiving treatment.

(2) Alongside the publication of the report, the Secretary of State must publish an assessment of the impact of the level of funding for alcohol treatment providers on their ability to deliver a high-quality service that enables patient choice.”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to make an annual statement on how the funding received by alcohol treatment providers has supported their work to improve treatment and reduce harm.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would put a duty on the Secretary of State to make an annual statement on the spend on, and impact of, alcohol treatment services. Each day in the UK, 70 people die of alcohol-related causes. Alcohol is linked to 200 different diseases and injuries and costs the NHS £3.5 billion each year. Good alcohol treatment is essential to support those with alcohol dependence towards recovery. That is important for individuals and for the collective, because it reduces emergency services call-outs, unnecessary hospital admissions and avoidable deaths.

Despite the importance of treatment, even going into the pandemic, only one in five dependent drinkers were believed to be in treatment—that is 80% lacking healthcare. The incomprehensible and frustrating picture in this country in recent years, between 2016 and 2018, is that more than two thirds of local authorities in England cut their alcohol-treatment budgets, and in 17 of them those cuts were greater than 50%.

Having been a local councillor in that period, responsible for public health in my community, I know that no colleague did that because they thought it was the right thing to do for their community; they did it because the public health grant in this country has been run down over the past decade, which has been an absolute tragedy. Those are the sorts of services that we have lost.

A very visible example comes from St Mungo’s—we all know its wonderful work—which estimates that funding cuts have meant that 12,000 fewer rough sleepers accessed support in 2018-19 than would have done had funding remained at 2010 levels. The covid pandemic has only worsened the situation, leading to significant and sustained increases in the rate of unplanned admissions for alcoholic liver disease. This issue is very important now, in the very immediate term. We need to act.

Owing to resource cuts, however, many alcohol treatment providers have been forced to reduce their offer. A lack of outreach resources leads to people with some of the most complex needs missing out on support, while the reduction in capacity means that many of those at the lower levels, where an earlier intervention would be very impactful, miss out as well. Those with greater dependency are not getting specialised treatment or, in some cases, are not getting any treatment at all.

I strongly believe that the Bill needs to address the importance of alcohol treatment in terms of its funding and impact. Requiring the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the ways in which alcohol treatment services have been supported and funded, and on the number of people requiring treatment and how that need is being met, will keep the issue at the forefront.

The Government’s own alcohol strategy states that alcohol treatment services

“offer the most immediate opportunity to reduce alcohol-related admissions and to reduce NHS costs.”

We also know that for every £1 invested in alcohol treatment £3 is yielded in return, rising to £26 over 10 years. Recovery also yields powerful dividends for families and communities affected by addiction, but at the moment we are going the wrong way in terms of our commitment to this issue. What I am asking for in the new clause, and I think it is a relatively modest ask, is for the Secretary of State to have on an annual basis an honest and candid assessment of the situation in this country, and then to account for the activity that is being taken to meet the need. It would be a very powerful statement that the Secretary of State and the Department have a grip of the issue and are committed to it, so I hope to find the Minister in listening mode.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

As ever, I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his exposition of the new clause, which would introduce a duty on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to publish an annual statement on how the funding received by alcohol treatment providers has supported their work to improve treatment and reduce harm. It would also introduce a duty on the Secretary of State to publish an assessment of the impact of the level of funding for alcohol treatment providers on their ability to deliver a high-quality service that enables patient choice. I join the shadow Minister in paying tribute to St Mungo’s for the work that it does, which I think we would all recognise across the House.

We do not think that a new reporting requirement introduced by the new clause is necessary as significant work is already under way in this area. Outcomes for local authority-funded alcohol treatment services are already published via the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities’ national drug treatment monitoring system. They are monthly and quarterly reports provided at a local authority level, and annual reports at a national level. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities also publishes annual data on estimated numbers of alcohol dependent adults in each local authority in England. Health commissioners can use that resource to estimate the number of adults in their area who need specialist treatment, supporting them to appropriately plan and improve alcohol treatment services.

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities provides a number of data tools to support local areas to compare their performance against that of other areas, and against national performance. Those tools include the public health outcomes framework, local alcohol profiles for England, and the spend and outcomes tool. With respect to spending, local authorities are currently required to report on their spend on alcohol harm prevention and alcohol treatment on an annual basis to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Part 2 of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs was published in July 2021 and the Government, in their initial response, published on 27 July 2021, agreed to carry forward its recommendations and publish a new drugs strategy later this year.

The review recommended increased transparency and accountability from local authorities on how funding is spent. Although the subject of the review was drugs, the implementation of that recommendation will apply to both drug and alcohol treatment through mechanisms such as an improved commissioning standard, which is currently in development. I therefore encourage the shadow Minister not to press the new clause to a Division.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I cannot quite accept that answer from the Minister. I understand the significant work that he talks about, and the different places where data is available. Those things tell us what is going on; they do not tell us why, and what we intend to do about it as a country. As a result, I do not think that is delivering for us, and we see that in the very difficult outcomes. On that basis, I am afraid I will have to press the new clause to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 43 Health and Care Bill — New Clause 43 - Annual report on alcohol treatment services: assessment of outcomes

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Steve Double.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.