Sunderland’s drug treatment programme ‘back in the Dark Ages’ as service drops to among worst in country

Managing Director of Counted 4 John Devitt.
Managing Director of Counted 4 John Devitt.
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THE treatment programme for people with drug problems in Sunderland has dropped to among the worst in the country since changes were put in place as part of cost-cutting plans, a senior figure has said.

Help for those with addictions was ranked in the top 20 in England before a re-organisation of services took place in August 2013.

One carer said to me what’s happening now ‘is like going back to the Dark Ages’

John Devitt, managing director of community interest organisation Counted4

The Echo reported last month how an independent report, created in June 2014, raised concerns over the treatment of vulnerable users and a backlog of cases.

John Devitt, managing director of community interest organisation Counted4, which provides help for addicts on Wearside, says Sunderland has now slipped to 131 out of 152 areas, for the rate of people who leave treatment drug-free, according to figures from Public Health England, which were included in the report.

The city council has today said that it will soon be re-commissioning the service.

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Mr Devitt has called on Sunderland City Council to implement a number of steps to improve the situation.

“We want to support the council in turning this around,” said Mr Devitt.

“We want Sunderland to be the place to carry out business and the council are getting new employers in.

“Substance misuse affects everyone and if there are these problems, we have a dysfunctional society and are undermining that good work.

“There are about 1,350 people in treatment and the system is able to deal with up to 2,000.”

As part of the changes in August 2013, three organisations, Counted4, Turning Point and Lifeline, were awarded the contract to deal with the city’s substance misuse issue.

“Sunderland has the biggest population of any city in the North East,” added Mr Devitt.

“And previously, its drug treatment programme was quite a success story.

“Now, we want it to be again. One carer said to me what’s happening now ‘is like going back to the Dark Ages’.

“We need to make sure that people understand what options are available to them, so that they can make informed choices about their own treatment.

“These people need to get the most out of their treatment programme, but they aren’t.”

Mr Devitt is now calling for a four-point plan to be put in place by the council, saying that an improvement group should be set up, a link should be created between the prescribing and the keyworking stages of each person’s treatment, service users and carers’ views should be taken on board, and more structured treatment offered to those in need.

“If this goes ahead, there’s no reason why we can’t be in the top 20 programmes again within nine months to a year,” added Mr Devitt.

“We don’t want to send out a negative message and I’m sure if we all pull together we can make this work.”

Lifeline and Turning Point said they did not want to comment on the situation.

Council looking to revise treatment services

IN response to Mr Devitt, Coun John Kelly, portfolio holder for health at the city council, said: “We haven’t had sight of this four point plan which is disappointing, so it’s difficult to comment on something we haven’t seen.

“We are however aware that some elements of drug and alcohol services are underperforming, which is why we are looking to develop a revised model of treatment.

“As part of this we have notified existing service providers of our plans to re-commission the service.

“We have also established a Substance Misuse Improvement Board under the Safer Sunderland Partnership to oversee work to address the issues identified.

“This brings together senior partners from across the city alongside service user and carer representatives to look at a joined-up, safe and effective approach to drug and alcohol issues that puts people at the heart of the changes we make.”