December 2020 | Page 14




2020 will forever be remembered as the year COVID-19 transformed our lives . But one note of optimism was the way services immediately rose to the challenge of looking after their clients in extraordinarily difficult circumstances
JANUARY Research by St Mungo ’ s finds that at least 12,000 homeless people went without much-needed drug and alcohol treatment , but rough sleepers would be facing more stark challenges as the months went on .
FEBRUARY The long-awaited first part of Professor Dame Carol Black ’ s drugs review states that a prolonged shortage of treatment funding has led to a loss of skills , expertise and capacity , while a ‘ much more violent ’ illegal drugs market has ‘ never caused greater harm ’.
MARCH As COVID-19 hits hard , the government includes drug and alcohol staff in its definition of key workers , while services move to online models of delivery where they can and DDN takes the inevitable but painful decision to postpone its annual service user conference .
APRIL With the sector , and the country , reeling from the impact of the pandemic , services scramble to keep up with the relentless pace of developments . ‘ We had a full business continuity plan set up on the afternoon the prime minister did his first big announcement ,’ Humankind ’ s executive operations director Anna Headley tells DDN . ‘ It was out of date within an hour .’ Alcohol Change UK finds that the stress of lockdown means a fifth of daily drinkers are now consuming even more .
MAY With around 90 per cent of rough sleepers housed in temporary accommodation , the Housing , Communities and Local Government Committee urges the government not to miss the chance to end rough sleeping for good . Meanwhile , Collective Voice ’ s Peter Keeling writes in DDN that while the sector ’ s swift adaptation to the COVID landscape has been hugely impressive it ’ s vital that developments like remote and digital delivery are seen as a ‘ welcome addition ’ – not a replacement .
JUNE Two parliamentary reports within a fortnight call for an overhaul of gambling regulation , with the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee slamming the ‘ weak and complacent ’ oversight of the industry . ‘ What has emerged in evidence is a picture of a torpid , toothless regulator that doesn ’ t seem terribly interested in either
the harms it exists to reduce , or the means it might use to achieve that ,’ states committee chair Meg Hillier .
JULY NHS Tayside provides a rare glimpse of good news when it becomes the world ’ s first region to effectively eliminate hep C , while Northern Ireland announces a ‘ full consultation ’ on whether it will follow in the footsteps of Scotland and Wales by introducing MUP .
AUGUST PHE becomes a COVID fall guy , with the government announcing its abolition to make way for the new National Institute for Health Protection – but no detail on what will happen to its drugs and alcohol remit . More than 80 organisations immediately issue a statement expressing their concern in the BMJ . ‘ Organisational change is difficult and can be damaging at the best of times ,’ it says . ‘ These are not the best of times .’
SEPTEMBER The Royal College of Psychiatrists warns that services are not equipped to deal with the ‘ soaring numbers ’ of people drinking at high risk levels during the pandemic , and calls for an urgent multimillion pound funding boost .
OCTOBER In what has become a grim annual milestone , England and Wales once again record their highest level of drug deaths at , 4,393 . The pandemic had now worsened a ‘ perfect storm ’ of factors – including disinvestment
and an ageing population – to reach a critical tipping point , warns Change Grow Live chief executive Mark Moody .
NOVEMBER The spectacularly divisive US presidential election also sees a ‘ monumental victory ’ for drug policy reform as Oregon votes in favour of decriminalising personal possession of all drugs , including heroin and cocaine . A year on from the launch of Middlesbrough ’ s heroin-assisted treatment pilot , clinical team lead Daniel Ahmed hails its ‘ dramatic impact ’, with 98 per cent attendance rates among long-term participants and offending levels slashed .
DECEMBER As the year comes to an end , and optimism about a vaccine is tempered by the reimposition of tough restrictions on much of the UK , the sector – and the country – hopes that the worst might finally be over . DDN
James Boardman / Alamy