HC Deb 01 December 1982 vol 33 cc211-2W
Mr. Pawsey

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when the report of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on treatment and rehabilitation is to be published; and what action the Government propose to take.

Mr. Fowler

The advisory council's report is published today and the Government are grateful to the Council for its work. The report spells out the changing nature and growing problem of drug misuse. It shows the effect on individuals, their relatives and friends, and on the work of health and social services agencies, the police, the courts and the probation service. It gives an overall view of treatment and rehabilitation services currently provided for drug misusers and makes recommendations for their strengthening and development.

The council challenges the "traditional" tendency to treat specific forms of addiction. It advocates instead a broader approach aimed at responding towards the whole range of problems encountered by drug misusers. As the council says, what is needed is a "long-term response which can bring about enduring change in the drug misuser's behaviour".

The Government recognise the challenge posed by the growth of drug misuse to which the council has drawn attention and are determined to respond. Drug misuse is a major social problem with grave consequences that we cannot ignore. This field has not had adequate attention in the past and it is clear that new initiatives must now be taken.

We accept the council's view that prime responsibility for the provision and development of services should remain at local level. This is consistent with our general policy for the health and personal social services.

It is important that each regional health authority should, in consultation with local authorities, assess the extent of drug problems in its region and monitor the effectiveness of services in dealing with them. Each region must develop a policy for meeting local needs in this field, and we shall be following up developments under the arrangements I have introduced this year for improving the accountability of the Health Service.

Recommendations are made in the report for the establishment of regional drug problem teams and of drug advisory committees in each district. Arrangements are being made for the report to be distributed to health and local authorities and to voluntary and professional bodies for their comments on these and other specific recommendations, including the council's suggestions for the development of a network of services with hospital based treatment facilities, advisory and counselling services, and residential facilities and improvements in training. As recommended by the council, statistical data maintained centrally will be made available at regional and district level.

The report deals with prescribing safeguards. We believe it important to look in detail at the role of doctors in the treatment of drug misuse and at prescribing patterns, including the criticisms made of the prescribing practice of certain doctors. As a matter of urgency my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has already invited comments from the profession and other interested bodies on the council's recommendation that current licensing arrangements for the prescription of heroin and cocaine should be extended to include dipipanone. He is also considering ways in which the tribunal procedure established under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to deal with irresponsible prescribing might be made more effective and less time consuming. At the same time investigation will continue into the prescribing practices of a number of doctors.

The Government are concerned about the deficiencies in services which the report highlights, and recognise that the response is dependent on many different professions and agencies, including health authorities, local authorities and voluntary organisations. Initially I am arranging for a special conference of the medical profession to be held early in the new year to look at the part doctors can play in responding to the problem of drug misuse. It is important that the need to engage in consultations should not delay authorities in preparing the ground for new initiatives.

We are therefore making available £2 million for grants to authorities and voluntary bodies in England to enable them to bring forward schemes in the coming financial year. As recommended in the report, grants will be made on a pump-priming basis and we shall be inviting proposals. Notes have been prepared on the sorts of schemes we wish to encourage, including innovative experiments. We shall be inviting comments on these with a view to issuing guidelines early in the new year. I look forward to a constructive response from authorities and voluntary organisations.

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be consulting interested bodies on the report's recommendations in so far as they are relevant to the situation in their countries and will decide what further action should be taken in the light of comments received. Copies of the advisory council's report are available in the Library of the House.