HL Deb 19 March 1981 vol 418 cc856-9

3.5 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many drug addiction units there are, and what has been the increase in patients in them over the past 10 years.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, there are 56 units or other special facilities for the treatment of narcotic drug addiction within the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, including four units for in-patient treatment only. Other National Health Service hospitals may sometimes use beds for the treatment of drug misuse, but information on this is not available centrally. Information on the number of patients over the last 10 years is not available for all parts of the United Kingdom. However, the number of patients in England and Wales rose from an annual average of 1,104 in 1971 to 1,713 in 1980, an increase of 55 per cent.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether the number of deaths due to drug addiction is on the increase, and would he agree that the closure of any facilities for the rehabilitation of those with drug dependence must be a cause for national concern, in view of the limited number of facilities available for this group of people?

Lord Sandys

Indeed it is a cause for national concern, my Lords. The figures of deaths from drug addiction, I must stress, are available only up to 1979. The available figures show that there were 38 deaths from drug dependency in 1971 and 111 in 1979, the last year for which figures are available. Those include deaths where the cause or underlying cause of death is recorded as drug dependency—that is, from any drug, not only opiates or barbiturates but also analgesics and tranquilisers, including overdose cases.

Lord Soper

My Lords, are the Government fully aware of the change in the nature of this dependency in the last few years, away from personal characteristics which would render particular people liable to become addicts, to the general stress and sense of loss of useful occupation, which has meant in many of the places where they have been cared for a need for greater attention to be paid to rehabilitation after the preliminary drying out has been secured?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, the Government are aware of that, and in the debate on an Unstarred Question in this House on 30th October 1979 that fact was made very clear by noble Lords who took part.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, has the success rate of the clinics been monitored?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, the success figures are monitored to the extent that one could say that a success rate of 30 per cent. could be thought to be a maximum in present circumstances, but it is an extremely difficult figure to calculate.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, how many units in the National Health Service are scheduled to be closed as an economy measure?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, so far as I am aware no unit is at present under immediate threat of closure. The noble Lord may be referring to the Ashdown ward of Bexley Hospital. That is under consideration now and I am glad to say that the regional health authority and the area health authority are trying to find ways by which it may remain open.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, the noble Lord was good enough to give the House figures of drug addicts who attend as in-patients in hospitals. Can he say, so far as the second figure is concerned, how many of them are patients who have already been in hospital, have been discharged and have had to return? I understand the difficulty one is in when talking about success, but may I ask the Minister to say, when he says it is estimated that the success rate is about 30 per cent., what aftercare and supervision there is, so enabling one to form some sort of judgment as to the yardstick which is being used?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I think that the yardstick is an extremely difficult one. This is no more than a "guesstimate". With regard to the aftercare situation, I fear that I am not able to give the noble Lord an answer to the first part of his supplementary question.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, bearing in mind the great extent of the incidence of drug smuggling in the last few years, has the noble Lord any information regarding the apprehension of offenders in this light? Is this not one system that should be tightened up and brought under stricter control?

Lord Sandys

Yes, most definitely, my Lords; but that is beyond the ambit of this Question.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, would not the Minister agree that all the figures that he has produced are really "guesstimates", bearing in mind the vast number of people who are not registered drug addicts and who are not known to the medical profession or to ordinary members of the public as being drug addicts?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, perhaps I may refer to what my noble friend Lord Belstead said, as reported at column 363 of the Official Report of 30th October 1979, which is most relevant: Perhaps the most scientific indication that we have had of the possible size of this unknown grey area of narcotic addiction is contained in studies which were carried out by Dr. Hamid Ghodse into the drug problems dealt with by 62 London hospital casualty departments".

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, can my noble friend give the House any reassuring figures? It is within my knowledge that the amount of drugs coming into this country has escalated enormously, possibly since the figures referred to were given. Does my noble friend agree that it is vitally important, through both the DHSS and voluntary organisations, to encourage the setting up of as many drug assessment centres and rehabilitation centres as possible? Does my noble friend also agree that some young people take to drugs more than they take to smoking or to drink, and this is harmful to their future? Will he please encourage voluntary organisations, as well as the DHSS, to set up as many drug centres as possible?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, with regard to the number of addicts, the number notified to the Home Office rose to 2,815 on 31st December 1979. Provisional statistics for 1980 show a continuation of the upward trend of the past few years. Of particular concern is the rise in the number of newly-notified addicts from outside London and the Home Counties. Provisional figures for 1980 suggest that such notifications are 41 per cent. up on the 1979 figures. With regard to the point about the clinics, I do not think I can add to what I have already said; but the Government are very well aware of the increasing trend of the figures.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that if the tax on alcoholic beverages were not so high, more people might be inclined to be satisfied with the mild stimulation of those beverages without being driven to buy drugs?