DRUG addicts will be promised faster treatment than cancer patients under controversial new government targets last night dismissed as "bizarre".
Community safety minister Fergus Ewing will for the first time introduce waiting times for treatment for addicts, with the target of a three-week maximum wait within five years.
But cancer patients have only been promised a maximum wait of 31 daysADVERTISEMENT
, leading to claims the government has got its priorities wrong. Ewing made his announcement amid growing pressure on the NHS from drug addicts not on treatment programmes. Some heroin and cocaine users must wait up to a year before they can be referred for expert help.
Ewing, writing in Scotland on Sunday, said: "I am very conscious that, in England, there is a three-week waiting time standard, from referral to treatment and that this has been achieved within five years of the introduction of a target.
"And while highly ambitious, I see no reason why, in time, a three-week waiting time standard should not be our aspiration in Scotland, too."
Scotland has about 52,000 drug addicts, the vast majority of whom are addicted to heroin although there are rising numbers of cocaine addicts. The cost of treatment is about £85 million a year. The most common treatment is methadone, with about 20,000 people taking the heroin substitute at an annual cost of £25m.
However, critics say this method of treatment fails to wean users of their habit. Other treatments include residential detox or counselling services. However, a lack of evidence means it is unclear how successful many treatments are.
The thrust of the SNP's drug strategy is a push towards recovery programmes rather than simply managing addiction.
The waiting-time target is likely to be set at a more modest figure in November and will become compulsory in April 2010. Waiting times vary dramatically around the country with some areas able to get addicts to treatment in three weeks and with some struggling to get help for patients for up to a year.
A spokesman for Ewing stressed faster treatment for drug users was good for everyone – not just addicts. He said: "For every £1 invested in treatment services, an estimated £9.50 is saved to wider society in terms of further potential costs through the criminal justice system, health service and economy."
But critics voiced anger at the move. Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "These proposals show a bizarre set of priorities. Of course people with drug problems should be treated, but those with life-threatening illnesses like cancer should come higher up the list."
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients' Association, said: "We have been advocating drug treatment targets for addicts …but if they can be treated within three weeks, our cancer patients should be treated within one week. Drug addiction is an inflicted illness and cancer is not."
On the road to recovery
A year ago, I launched The Road to Recovery - Scotland's first drugs strategy since devolution.
Tomorrow at Edinburgh Castle I will meet many of those who have helped to implement the strategy, including people in recovery from their addiction. It's absolutely clear that wanting to change is key to recovery from addiction.
Often there is a trigger point - the birth of a child, the death of a loved one - that leads them to want to change and give up drugs.
Help must be available at that moment of greatest motivation. In too many parts of Scotland people face many months for treatment, while others wait just a few weeks.
We have agreed with the NHS that waiting times for drug treatment services will be reduced.
In November we will announce the first performance target for drug treatment, which will commence from April 2010.
We are in discussion with key stakeholders to establish just how ambitious this target can be. I expect that NHS boards, local authorities and voluntary sector partners will work in concert to achieve this.
I am conscious that, in England, there is a three-week waiting time standard, from referral to treatment and that this has been achieved within five years of the introduction of a target.
And while highly ambitious, I see no reason why, in time, a three-week waiting time standard should not be our aspiration in Scotland too.
Scotland's skilled health professionals have made great progress in reducing waiting times for other treatment services, including cancer. It is now essential that we do the same for drug treatment services.
By David Leask and Kate Foster
Source - http://news.scotsman.com/scotland/Anger-at-NHS-targets-set.5319337.jp