Drug users 'vanish before treatment'

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The Independent Online
ONE-THIRD of those people seeking help from residential hostels for drug or alcohol problems suffer delay or 'disappear' before treatment because of the community care system, a survey shows.

Although the report by a team from Goldsmith's College, London, does not say how many disappear altogether, a member of the advisory panel said Professor Susanne MacGregor, who headed the research team, told the panel yesterday: 'One in five referrals for residential treatment are lost to the system.'

The team was commissioned by the Department of Health to monitor the impact of community care on residential services for drug and alcohol misusers in England. Before April, when community care was introduced, most people who turned up at hostels were assessed and received automatic funding from the Department of Social Security. Now those seeking help must be referred to their home social services department for assessment and funding. Delays can take weeks. The report shows a fall in admissions and the number of beds occupied, and says: 'The overriding question . . . is what form of care if any is being provided for the missing or lost clients?'

Another important finding was 'the squeezing of the residential sector's income' partly because local authorities are reluctant to finance care for longer than three months. As a result, many residential homes are economising by shortening programmes or diversifying into non-residential care.

Among the agencies 'there was considerable confusion . . all those involved felt swamped by excessive form-filling; the most extreme concern was expressed about delays in assessing drug and alcohol misusers'.