Call for more access to community-based detox to prevent NI alcohol deaths

The RCPNI has highlighted the need for more community-based detox services, saying not every Trust has access. Credit: PA

More community-based detox addiction services are needed now to combat Northern Ireland’s dismal record on alcohol deaths, the Royal College of Psychiatrists NI has said.

Currently, although there is access to inpatient addiction services for all Trusts, bed numbers have been reduced during the pandemic and not every Trust has access to community-based detoxes.

These type of detoxes are recommended by NICE for people who drink more than 15 units of alcohol a day and are organised by a community addiction service and the person’s GP.

They can be used instead of an admission to hospital - reducing the demand on inpatient beds and waiting times – which is currently more than two months due to the pandemic.

Latest statistics reveal the number of alcohol deaths reached a record high in 2019 with 336 alcohol related deaths.


increase in alcohol deaths from 2018-2019

The figure is more than a third higher than ten years ago and an increase of 18% since 2018. The death rate is also considerably higher in deprived areas.

Alcohol deaths also costs the public purse around £900m annually, on top of an already stretched health service.

Now, RCPNI is calling for more access to these services across the country to help reduce the tragic death rate and free up hospital beds.

In a response to the Department for Health’s Draft Drug and Alcohol Strategy, the College is calling for a regional plan for community-based assisted withdrawal services - which would give greater access to all.

The Western Trust in Londonderry is the only one which currently offers community-detox services. It receives 400 enquiries across the region, per year.

Jane (not her real name) who is from Derry and in her 40s, contacted her GP in December 2020, when she was struggling to come to terms with her brother’s death. Jane was swiftly referred to her local community detox team, with treatment taking place in her own home by a designated mental health nurse from the detox centre.

Jane said: “I was abusing alcohol as a means of getting to sleep every night and was drinking around half a bottle of vodka every night and feeling incredibly guilty about it.

“I realised I was struggling and decided on my own to seek help for it. Honestly, the treatment and care were fantastic in helping me overcome my addiction.

The detox ran for less than a week and I’m still doing really well.

"Jane", used community-based detox service

She continued: “I had a nurse come out to the house every morning and the treatment was one-on-one.

“The service offers counselling after your detox which I think is a really essential part of the whole experience. I’m also attending regular zoom chats every Friday with other patients.

“Without a doubt, I don’t know where I’d be if it hadn’t been for the community detox team in Derry. It’s a great service, and one that should most definitely be rolled-out across Northern Ireland.”

Northern Ireland has had a long-standing problem with alcohol addiction, and we suspect the problem will only get worse due to lockdown and Covid-19.

Dr Donna Mullen

“The truth is alcohol addiction, whether living through a pandemic or not, shatters the lives of individuals and their families, but treatment is available and can be effective," Dr Donna Mullen, chair of the addictions faulty, Royal College of Psychiatrists NI, said.

“We know that alcohol addiction is sometimes overlooked by a focus on drug addiction - when addictions services are planned.

“Community-based withdrawal programmes and services have been proven to work, but not everyone has access to them. This needs to change.

“We need to focus on getting those who are addicted to alcohol, better and reduce the alarming rise in deaths and self-harm.”