Byline: HELEN RAE
CONCERNS have been raised for the future of drug users following a council's decision to restructure its addiction services.
Newcastle City Council decided earlier this year to reduce its drug addiction support services as part of plans to save pounds 380,000 to cope with the Government's squeeze on public spending.
Under proposals outlined, four of the city's substance abuse centres will be affected which will impact on many drug addicts as well as creating the loss of healthcare and counselling jobs.
It has been announced the Newcastle-branch of the North East Council on Addictions will be axed, Bridge View drug treatment centre will be scaled back and Addaction and Turning Point must compete for re-tendering of their services in the city.
These groups provide a mixture of prescribing, treatment, counselling and day care. The changes will come into force in the New Year, with council chiefs insisting they will improve care for substance abusers.
Rachel Baillie, head of commissioning for the council, said: "It is important that we deliver a drug treatment system that meets the requirements of the National Drug Strategy and it is about helping those with addiction problems to move on to lead a normal life.
"Our objective is to deliver a better system and to get to a positive outcome for those using the drug addiction services.
"If we do not make these changes then we will prevent people who are vulnerable from getting to a positive outcome." There are 14 drug addiction services in Newcastle and pounds 4.5m is spent funding the groups. By reducing the number hundreds of thousands will be saved.
The commissioning decision has been made by the council, Newcastle PCT, Northumbria Police and the probation service.
But unions and organisations affected by the changes say cutting "vital services" will be to the detriment of drug addicts.
Nicki Ramanandi, from the Unison Newcastle city branch, said: "This is yet another clear example of where the Government's cuts have direct human impact for those most in need of support and assistance.
"Cutting vital services is a short-term fix that will have longterm consequences for the individual, the NHS and local authority services as the individual's needs are not met and become more complex."
NECA is fighting against the axing of its service in Newcastle and is set to challenge the decision in the High Court.
Cynthia Atkinson, chief executive of NECA said: "NECA is a leading addictions organisation delivering services throughout the North East.
"NECA has delivered services in Newcastle for over 37 years. The proposed withdrawal of funding by the City of Newcastle is of great concern. …