Addiction Support Services (Highlands)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 12th December 2018.

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Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to improve addiction support services in the Highlands. (S5O-02671)

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

NHS Highland recently redesigned parts of its drug and alcohol services. An NHS service improvement group is leading on-going work to reduce the time that individuals wait to access drug and alcohol treatment services, with a specific focus on reducing waits for those requiring opioid substitution therapy. Further, our new alcohol and drug strategy, as set out in the document “Rights, Respect and Recovery”, outlines how £20 million of additional investment a year will be available to support the quality and provision of local services in order to better meet the needs of those who are at risk.

Photo of Gail Ross Gail Ross Scottish National Party

Having been contacted by a number of my constituents on the issue recently, and given the online petition about increasing addiction services in Caithness, can the minister tell me how the additional funding that was recently announced to accompany the new alcohol and drugs strategy will be distributed to rural areas, where the problem is sometimes not as visible as it is elsewhere?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The additional funding that was recently announced as part of the strategy is being allocated across three funds. A total of £20 million is being made available to support service redesign and system change in this financial year. Those three funds are: the local improvement fund, with £17 million being made directly available to our drug partnerships; the challenge fund; and the national development project fund. More than £1 million of that additional investment will go directly to the Highlands to support efforts to make services more accessible and attractive to people who are seeking help.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

The minister will be aware that there were 19 drug-related deaths in the Highlands in 2016, which was an increase of five on the previous year. The minister will also note that police officers are often the first on the scene of such incidents. Can the minister engage the Cabinet Secretary for Justice regarding police officers routinely carrying naloxone?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I thank the member for that question, which is an important one. He is absolutely right to say that, across Scotland, and probably particularly in rural areas, police will be the first people to come across someone who is experiencing an overdose. I know that discussions about the suggestion that Mr Finnie makes are on-going and that positive noises have been made in that regard. I hope that there will be a positive announcement on that issue soon.

Scotland was ahead of the curve in making naloxone routinely available. I have personally undergone the training that is required to administer naloxone, as have two members of my office staff. We have a naloxone kit in the office, which is in the town centre in Dundee. I encourage anyone else who thinks that their office is in a location where such a kit might be useful to consider speaking to service managers to see whether that training could be extended to them as well. However, the point that the member makes about the police is a good one.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

Does the minister share the view of Alcohol Focus Scotland that a new public health supplement would provide substantial additional funding for addiction support services in the Highlands and the rest of Scotland? The Parliament has already approved that proposal in passing the Alcohol etc (Scotland) Act 2010. Surely, the time is right to provide additional funds to offset the significant cost to the public sector of dealing with the consequences of alcohol harm.

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

The member makes that point almost weekly in the chamber, and he is right. The Government is sympathetic to the proposal, as I am. The argument is that, with the introduction of minimum unit pricing, there may be a potential windfall. The point that I have made previously to the member is that we need to see what that windfall is. I hope that there is not a windfall, because I hope that alcohol consumption goes down. However, when we have the assessment, if we find that there is a windfall, that will be the point at which to consider any further action.