April 7th is World Health Day 2019 and this year the World Health Organisation are focusing on universal health coverage. WHO’s number one goal is that everyone worldwide gets the health care they need, when they need it, accessible in the heart of their community.
At UKAT, we’ve long been calling for universal health coverage for addiction. Every child, teenager and adult who develops an addictive disorder deserves timely treatment for their illness. Still in 2019, however, addicts are marginalised. Far too often, people with addictive disorders don’t get the most effective treatment – or any treatment at all – at the point of need.
People with alcohol addiction, eating disorders or drug addiction (prescription medication or recreational drugs) shouldn’t be treated any differently to people with heart disease, cancer, diabetes or stroke. Universal health coverage for addiction means treating people fairly – whether their illness develops due to genetic, environmental or lifestyle factors.
And yet, half a million alcohol addicts in England received no help at all in 2017-18. This is more than the population of Liverpool, who are drinking to extremely harmful levels, without professional support. We wrote about the latest NDTMS data in November 2018 – covering the scale of unmet need for substance addiction.
Process addictions including gambling can be life-threatening too, linked to many cases of severe depression and suicide. An estimated 430,000 people in the UK have a gambling problem and two-thirds get worse without help. You can read more here about why the NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, regards gambling as a new threat to the National Health Service.
When people are able to access to detox, rehab, counselling and peer support for addiction, treatment outcomes are good. Take alcohol addiction treatment, for example. People respond very well to specialist help including alcohol detox, rehab and counselling. Of the 1 in 5 alcohol-dependent people who could access treatment in 2017-18, 61% successfully completed.
If universal health coverage for addiction was prioritised, many other health conditions could also be prevented. Substance addiction leads to major physical diseases including heart disease and many types of cancer. Left untreated, binge eating disorder can cause obesity and diabetes, due to excessive consumption of sugary and processed foods. All addictions are linked to a greater incidence of mental illnesses including depression and anxiety. By treating the root cause, addiction, as early as possible, we can reduce the burden of chronic disease on hospitals and GP practices nationwide.
There are many other reasons why universal health coverage for addiction makes sense. Families benefit enormously when their addicted relative recovers. Employers see greater productivity from their workforce. Acquisitive crimes, related directly to addiction, fall. Alcohol-related violence drops. Communities change when addicts get well. Recovering addicts contribute more to society than they ever could in active addiction.
How Do We Achieve Universal Health Coverage for Addiction?
There is a long way to go in this country before we achieve universal health coverage for addiction. The National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) data for 2017-18 recorded a 4% drop in access to addiction treatment. The adult treatment population has fallen year on year since 2009-10, apart from a small rise in 2013-14. This is not because fewer people need addiction treatment. It’s because fewer public services are available to treat people, where people need them. 
Universal health coverage for addiction means reversing the drastic cuts made to alcohol and drug treatment services in England – something UKAT have been campaigning to change. It’s going to take a major shift in Government policy to achieve – but it’s possible to do.
Equally important is challenging the stigma around addiction. Too often, addicts are looked down upon in society. Media coverage about addiction is often pejorative or sensational – focusing on the horror or shame of addiction, rather than trying to understand why people get addicted and how people can recover. As a result, addiction treatment is sidelined. Addicts try to cope with their illness alone. With stigma, there is always silent suffering.
At UKAT, we’ve worked hard over the years to extend our addiction treatment coverage across the country. We have a range of detox and rehab facilities, providing treatment for all addictive disorders. We offer some of the most cost-effective detox and rehab programmes in the country. We are open to working much more with local authority referrers, as well as continuing to provide a fast, tailored and effective service to our private clients.
Local authority commissioners, please get in touch with UKAT for more information about the addiction services we provide. Private individuals and their relatives can also call us for help with addiction. All calls are treated in confidence.
If you successfully complete our 90-day inpatient treatment program, we guarantee you'll stay clean and sober, or you can return for a complimentary 30 days of treatment.