Auditors urge drug services reform

28 Feb 02
Drug rehabilitation services are in need of urgent improvement to stop misusers from falling through the net, according to the Audit Commission.

01 March 2002

Fragmented local services and a lack of information about their performance are hampering attempts by the National Treatment Agency to improve standards, it said. The inspectors also found that the government's emphasis on new initiatives, and short-term planning and funding arrangements, were conspiring to prevent a strategic approach to the delivery of services.

The performance watchdog found that in some areas there were waiting lists of several months to see a drugs counsellor, which meant that two-thirds of appointments were not kept. Meanwhile, a lack of co-ordination between treatment agencies and other services, such as housing and mental health care, was exacerbating the problem of people slipping through the system. High workloads for staff were adding to the problems, inspectors found.

The report called for immediate action from ministers, although it acknowledged that the NTA had started work in some areas.

'Central government should do more to increase understanding of what works, collect better comparative information about service performance and build the capacity and skills of treatment staff,' the commission urged.

Fundamental reviews of local services should be launched to examine the quality of provision, and a set of national performance targets and indicators should be introduced to allow comparisons between areas, it added.

The report went on to say that clients' care should be more co-ordinated as they move between services and agencies, and services such as housing should play a bigger role in planning and organising provision. It also said managers should think more about targeting services at categories of drug users, such as women or those taking crack cocaine.

Commission controller Sir Andrew Foster said there was clear evidence that effective drug services reduced rates of addiction. 'Too many drug misusers still struggle to get the help they need, when they need it. As a result, many end up trapped in a cycle of dependency and drug-related crime. The time for action is now,' he said.


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