New research: Alcohol treatment services in England at crisis point

Maddy Lawson | May 2018 | 8 minutes

A new report, to be launched at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm today (1 May), warns that the alcohol treatment sector is in crisis.


These services are entering into a cycle of disinvestment, staff depletion, and reduced capacity, and this is due to get worse; in 2020 ring-fenced public health funding will end, posing additional risk to the areas of highest need.

The report,The hardest hit: Addressing the crisis in alcohol treatment services, by the new alcohol charity formed by the merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, highlights how severe funding cuts, rapid re-tendering cycles, loss of qualified staff and lack of political support are impacting on some of the most vulnerable people in society.

It is estimated that around 595,000 people in England alone are dependent on alcohol and in need of specialist support. But only around 108,000 are receiving treatment for their alcohol dependency. This has a significant impact not only on the individual but on their families; around 200,000 children live in a household with an alcohol-dependent carer.[i]

In the UK roughly one person dies every hour as a result of alcohol. Over the past forty years we have seen liver disease rates in the UK increase by around 250% - far outstripping liver disease rates seen across much of the developed world, which have reduced in recent years.[ii]

Public Health England estimates that every £1 invested in alcohol treatment brings a social return of £3.[iii]

Key findings from the report show:

  • Only 12% of respondents felt that resources were sufficient in their area;
  • Respondents reported cuts of between 10% and 58%, with one treatment provider saying local areas were ‘paring back to a skeleton service’;
  • 59% of respondents felt that aspects of services in their area had worsened in the last three years, with particular threats to community detox and residential rehabilitation facilities;
  • 62% of respondents said that in their area appropriate care is not available for people with both a mental health and an alcohol problem, with many told they must resolve their alcohol problems before they can access mental health services;
  • Only 7% described the quality of engagement between JobCentre Plus and local alcohol services as ‘good’.

To address the issue, the report sets out several key recommendations, including:

  1. The Government must develop and implement a National Alcohol Strategy, with treatment at the heart of a broader suite of interventions to reduce alcohol harm.
  2. The Government must urgently plug the gap in treatment funding and reduce health inequalities arising from local funding structures. The report contains recommendations for how this might work.
  3. There must be a national review of the balance of staffing in the alcohol field to identify what expertise is required at each point in the system, including commissioning, and how that expertise can be retained.

Dr Richard Piper, CEO of the new charity formed by the merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, said:

“Around 595,000 people in the UK are dependent on alcohol. It’s clear that the Government must develop a national alcohol strategy to address the harm they and their families face, and include treatment at its heart to reduce the suffering of the four in every five who currently do not access the services they need.

“This report shows very clearly what action is needed and we urge policy-makers, practitioners and service providers to join together to implement these recommendations to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are in desperate need of support.”


  • The All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting is invitation only. If you would like to attend, please contact Maddy Lawson as soon as possible as numbers are limited: [email protected] / 020 3907 8493.
  • For interviews with Dr Richard Piper and other enquiries contact Maddy Lawson (see above).

Notes to editors

  • The report: Read the full report here. The report’s 154 respondents were drawn from a wide range of fields related to alcohol services, including nurses, GPs, those working in community safety and service providers. A full breakdown can be found in the report.
  • Alcohol treatment: What is alcohol treatment and why is it important? Read the blog here.
  • Minimum unit pricing in Scotland: 1 May also marks the implementation of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland. Read our statement here.
  • The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm exists to promote the discussion of alcohol-related issues, raise issues of concern and to make recommendations to Government and other policymakers. All-party parliamentary groups are made up of back-bench MPs and peers from all political parties in Parliament. They provide an opportunity for cross-party discussion and co-operation on particular issues. The APPG on Alcohol Harm is chaired by Fiona Bruce MP. The secretariat is provided by Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern.
  • Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK merged in April 2017 to form a major independent national charity, working to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. For more information visit: and