Amy Winehouse's father in drug help units plea

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The father of Amy Winehouse today pleaded with the Government to reform drug rehabilitation centres for youngsters in memory of his daughter.

The singer's battles with drink and drugs before her death last month led Mitch Winehouse to make a heartfelt plea to politicians for better services for addicts.

"This isn't only important to me, this is important to our whole country," he said.

With the last specialist NHS rehabilitation centre for youngsters closing last year, Mr Winehouse urged Crime Minister James Brokenshire and Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, to consider a "reallocation of resources".

Mr Winehouse said: "There's hundreds of thousands of young people in situations today that could be avoided, and these are our future policemen, doctors and lawyers and solicitors that we could help.

"We need to be able to help our children."

After his meeting with Mr Winehouse, Mr Vaz said it seemed the "level of support is not there" after the closure of Middlegate rehabilitation centre in Nettleton, Lincolnshire, last year.

Mr Vaz said he was "grateful" for the meeting with Mr Winehouse, saying he "spoke from his heart".

The MP said his committee would "look again" at recommendations it made to the Government after hearing evidence from Mr Winehouse in October 2009.

Following this and other hearings, the committee published a report in 2010 saying it was "perturbed by reports that access to residential rehabilitation was not as readily available as to community programmes" and that "addicts in a chaotic environment could benefit from periods of stable, residential treatment".

Following his private meeting with Mr Brokenshire, a Home Office spokeswoman said "points that are raised will be considered".

Mr Vaz said he offered deep condolences on behalf of himself and the committee for the "terrible, tragic" death of Winehouse, "who was a great British musician".

After meeting Mr Vaz in the Houses of Parliament, Mr Winehouse said he sensed "a willingness to perhaps change the way things are being done".

He said that he wanted to "keep busy" following his daughter's death, adding: "I want to involve myself in things that would be important to Amy.

"That is why we are going to be setting up the Amy Winehouse Foundation."

The foundation will help "the things she (Amy) loved" including children and horses but will also aid those struggling with substance abuse, according to Mr Winehouse.

Winehouse, 27, was found dead at her flat in north London on July 23.

Her multiple Grammy award-winning album Back To Black topped the UK album charts last night and five of her singles are in the top 40, including the single Back To Black at number eight.

The singer's family is awaiting the results of toxicology tests to establish the cause of her death.

Sarah Graham, a former cocaine abuser and addiction expert, went to the meeting with Mr Winehouse and said any rehabilitation centre in Amy's name should not be paid for by the foundation and that the Government should "commit to pay for the beds long-term".

"We don't want to build another Middlegate which falls by the wayside," she said.

A spokesman for the family said Mr Winehouse is also trying to address the issue that addicts face two-year waiting lists for NHS treatment.

Because of Winehouse's battles with drink and drugs, news of her death was quickly followed by suggestions that it could be related to one or the other.

Mr Winehouse said he believed his daughter's decision to stop drinking may have contributed to her death.

In his eulogy at her funeral service at Edgwarebury Cemetery in north London last week, Mr Winehouse said he thought she may have struggled to deal with the sudden withdrawal.

He said she had "just completed three weeks of abstinence", adding that she told him: "Dad, I've had enough of drinking, I can't stand the look on your and the family's faces any more."

A post-mortem examination proved inconclusive and an inquest was opened and adjourned with no cause of death given.

Simon Antrobus, chief executive of Addaction, one of the UK's major treatment providers, said some areas had seen Government funding cuts of up to 50%.

These cuts are not specifically to funding for specialist rehabilitation centres for young people, as there are none, but to community-based services, he said.

"The result is a significant reduction in the support we can offer," said Mr Antrobus.

"We need to ensure that specialist support remains available for everyone who encounters problems, whether it is the person themselves or the family around them."

Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, the independent centre of expertise on drugs, said: "Mitch Winehouse's ambitions for better access to drug treatment for all following the tragic death of his daughter Amy is to be welcomed.

"However, it is also important to emphasise that preventative and community-based services ought to be, for most people, the first port of call," he said.