The Blue Light project: awards for Sandwell

Mike Ward | November 2019 | 7 minutes

At the end of October 2019, the Blue Light project in Sandwell won the Royal Society of Public Health Award for Healthier Lifestyles 2019.

In addition to this award, the Sandwell project has been shortlisted for The Guardian Public Health & Wellbeing Award 2019. This is well-deserved recognition for the tremendous work of Mary Bailey, Dawn Maycock and their colleagues in Sandwell’s Public Health team, Cranstoun Projects and other local partners.

However, this is also a recognition of the pioneering work done by Alcohol Change UK in developing this approach nationally.

The Blue Light project is our national initiative to develop alternative approaches and care pathways for change-resistant drinkers. It is estimated that 75% or more of dependent drinkers are not in treatment at any one time.

The alcohol agency relies on clients being motivated… Often if people don't attend a couple of appointments their case is closed.

The Hardest Hit report (2018)

The project focuses on frequent hospital attenders, repeat offenders, vulnerable adult safeguarding clients and those committing anti-social behaviour. In an area with a population of 200,000 the Blue Light project estimates that there would be around 250 Blue Light clients who would cost public services at least £12-13 million each year across a range of agencies.

Too often the response to these change-resistant drinkers relies on individuals seeking help themselves, but this approach only helps a small, motivated, minority and leaves many others suffering and reliant on emergency services.

The Blue Light project has shown that there are positive strategies that can be used with this client group. Moreover, this approach will save money and resources. The Blue Light manual outlining the core approach is available here.

The Sandwell award highlights another, perhaps more important, aspect of the Blue Light initiative – the evolution of the Alcohol Change UK team’s thinking about what works. We now recognise that in each local authority partnership area, it is vital to have:

  • Strategic ownership of the need to tackle this issue;
  • Frontline staff trained to identify and respond appropriately to change resistant and dependent drinkers;
  • Specialist alcohol services that have a prioritised response for this group;
  • A multi-agency management group to identify and manage these clients;
  • Outreach organised to serve the high-impact client group;
  • Positive use of existing legal powers to manage these clients;
  • Monitoring and evaluation.

These developments will be included in the next iteration of the Blue Light manual. The heart of the Blue Light approach is assertive outreach workers being supported by a multi-agency group. The group members will identify the highest impact clients in their services, information will be shared and a joint action plan will be developed. Assertive outreach workers will then engage and work with these clients.

As a result, the even more positive news from Sandwell is that the project is growing and developing. The success of the group has highlighted the need for assertive outreach workers and Cranstoun Projects have now been given the funding to appoint two assertive outreach workers to work with this client group. Sandwell have also appointed a coordinator to coordinate the care of these complex clients across all the local multi-agency groups, including hospital frequent attenders, Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences, Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and anti-social behaviour focused groups. This follows similar models used in places such as Surrey, Worcester and West Berkshire.

We will continue to monitor and report on these exciting developments.

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Our Blue Light initiative offers an innovative approach to supporting and motivating high impact dependent drinkers. Find out how it can help you develop targeted interventions for those experiencing serious alcohol harm.
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