Guest Blog – Complete IT Recovery Ride

8 Sep

17 team members from I.T. support company Complete I.T. and their 2014 Charity of the Year partners, drugs and alcohol charity Blenheim CDP completed the 29 mile bike ride from Richmond to Windsor, raising £2k in the process. The money raised will go to Blenheim’s family services to help them buy toys and materials for their crèches and support the work that they do to improves families lives that are affected by drugs or alcohol.

Complete I.T. client Blenheim is currently celebrating its 50th Anniversary of supporting drug and alcohol users and their families across London.

A big well done to all of those who took part yesterday and a special thanks to technical consultant Mark Whittlesea for organising the day for us.

DSC_0120 Blenheim Bike Ride Small Thumbs Up!

People are dying because of a lack of harm reduction and access to naloxone

4 Sep

Lack of focus on harm reduction and shameful failure to roll out naloxone in England is leading to needless deaths. I feel deeply sad and ashamed to be part of a system that is letting this happen.

I believe the failure of Government to roll out naloxone in England and a lack of focus on and dis-investment in harm reduction and drugs services is a factor in the 32% increase in heroin/morphine related deaths. Many people I suspect are now being encouraged to leave treatment before they are ready.

There were 765 deaths involving heroin/morphine in 2013; a sharp rise of 32% from 579 deaths in 2012. Many of these fatalities could have been prevented by the use of naloxone as an intervention.

Naloxone is a medicine that is a safe, effective, with no dependence-forming potential. Its only action is to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, and it is already used by emergency services personnel in the UK for this purpose. Naloxone provision reduces rates of drug-related death particularly when combined with training in all aspects of overdose response 

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) undertook a review of naloxone availability in the UK and in May 2012, its report to the Government strongly recommended that naloxone should be made more widely available, to prevent future drug-related deaths.

In Scotland and Wales, successful pilots resulted in national programmes to make naloxone widely available but there has been no similar national programme in England. Scotland has allowed naloxone to be provided to services without prescription, for use in an emergency. This enables Scottish drug treatment and homeless hostel staff to have naloxone ready for use. We urgently need the law in the UK changed to allow this.

Naloxone is available on prescription in England to people at risk of opioid overdose. However, maximum impact on drug-related death rates will only be achieved if naloxone is given to people with the greatest opportunity to use it, and to those who can best engage with heroin users.

The ACMD in May 2012 made 3 recommendations for government to take to maximise naloxone’s role in reducing drug-related deaths.

  1. Naloxone should be made more widely available, to tackle the high numbers of fatal opioid overdoses in the UK.
  1. Government should ease the restrictions on who can be supplied with naloxone
  1. Government should investigate how people supplied with naloxone can be suitably trained to administer it in an emergency and respond to overdoses

Over two years later in July 2014 Jane Ellison Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health wrote to confirm that Government would act on the recommendations by October 2015 in England. Not only does this shamefully push the issue into the post election long grass it also makes no suggestion of a national programme similar to Scotland or Wales. Perhaps we should conclude that English heroin users lives are worth less than the Welsh and Scottish ones. Think I’m cynical; sources in Public Health England tell me a roll of naloxone is not on their agenda and they have no current plans.

Guest Blog, Kim Ring – The “Good Guys” of the Marketing World

29 Aug

My first day interning with Blenheim I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I’m sure that they didn’t know what to expect of me either. I’m from America, and I knew there were going to be some differences compared to what I am used to. Almost immediately, I begin to notice vast differences. I am being constantly asked if I am “alright,” adapting to proper English instead of “American English,” and there is always someone on holiday along with cake in the kitchen. Despite these cultural differences, I had to concentrate on what I was doing here. I came to London for eight weeks to be a Marketing intern with a charity called Blenheim, and to learn a little more about what I wanted in my career path.

Being in the field of Marketing and Communication, I am sometimes labelled the “bad guy.” I am in this field because I enjoy advertising and social media, but I don’t like that a lot of what this field does is sell people things that they probably don’t need. Why would I want to do that? I would much rather be the good guy! This question is what led me to an internship with Blenheim. Blenheim is a charity that cares about making London a better place and helping people find a new life. Blenheim offers services to people recovering from drugs and alcohol. This charity is so successful in their services that most of the people who have recovered thanks to Blenheim actually become future volunteers and employees. This stood out to me, because everyone with the company actually has a passion for the charity. This is the kind of place I would enjoy promoting.

Mostly every Communication course tells you that when learning how to sell a product, you must consider the clients and the audience you are trying to reach. In my case this summer, I had to learn what Blenheim seeks out, and what they are trying to sell. Once I figured this out, my job became much easier. Blenheim wants to reach as many people that need their services in order to generally help the community. Sounds simple, right? Surprisingly, no. Charity marketing is a little more complicated.

The problem with marketing for a charity is that there is little or no money to put forth. After extensive searching, Helen and I finally found a company willing to help launch our new website. While doing this research I found that even though promoting a charity might be easy on your conscience, it can be hard on your wallet. At one point while interning with Blenheim, I actually managed to go exploring and asking for donations to sponsor the Bexley Recovery Walk. It’s astonishing that asking for something as simple as donating a few water bottles can take a dozen business cards, handshakes and phone calls to get for free. Donations and free help can be hard to find, but it’s well worth the wait once you get there. Plus, of course you feel pretty good about it afterward.

All in all, being an American intern in London definitely had its ups and downs. I earned marketing experience that I wouldn’t have anywhere else. I am so honoured to have had this experience with co-workers who care about their community and where they work. Helping these people promote their company has been an opportunity like no other. It’s nice to know that in the world of marketing, you can sometimes end up being the good guy after all.

Kim Ring, Marketing and Communications Intern

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HEP C SCANDAL – failure to provide treatment or baseline data

17 Jul

National figures suggest 49% of people who inject drugs in the UK are hep C positive, this compares to just 1% who are HIV positive. This group is more likely to have been in prison and been homeless and 47% are unaware of having hep C.

Only 3% of people with hep C get treatment annually despite existing effective treatments being available. This is a scandal.

The rate is far lower for those with drug problems and figures are not kept regularly on people’s access to treatment. This hides an appalling institutional discrimination against drug users and other minority groups. Only 52% of Health and Wellbeing Boards have given any priority to hep C despite many of them having high rates of infection. The numbers dying as a result of hep C infection are rising at an alarming rate despite it being something for which there are effective treatments. The failure to act is shameful.

Substance misuse agencies, the NHS and local authorities must do more to test, treat and cure those with hep C. A first step would be for Public Health England to add a question about whether those hep C positive are receiving treatment to data required from all service providers, to ensure an adequate baseline on which to base an improvement plan.

Hep C, harm reduction, the changing face of drug and alcohol use and services in an age of austerity for the public sector

20 Jun

I was asked to be on a panel this week at the DAAT conference in Brighton and to pick some themes to talk about for 5 minutes.

The realisation that we have let down a generation of drug users by failing to test, treat and cure, Hep C was my starting point.

The rising tide of deaths from hepatitis C, a preventable and curable virus, is a scandal. It is absolutely unacceptable that half of those living with hepatitis C are still undiagnosed and a mere 3% of those infected are treated each year. There is a clear link between hepatitis C and deprivation. Hepatitis C has been overlooked, ignored, under-prioritised and underfunded resulting in spiralling hospital admissions and deaths. This is because the majority of people living with, and dying from, the virus are from the most marginalised, vulnerable, deprived groups of society.

If the health service is to reduce health inequalities and “improve the health of the poorest, fastest”, hepatitis C must be addressed.

Many hepatitis C patients are still never assessed for liver damage or offered potentially life-saving treatment despite the fact that treatment has improved and new drugs with almost 100% cure rates and very few side effects are expected to be approved shortly. We need to ensure we test, treat, cure and eradicate hep C and drug and alcohol agencies need to do their part in finding, testing and supporting people into treatment.

I travelled home to radio 4 talking about how a new report indicated a huge jump in liver cancer and death from liver disease as a result of alcohol consumption and Hep C.

My next theme was the changing patterns of drug use bringing with it different needs. The changing pattern of drug and alcohol use continue to offer challenges to traditional service models which for many no longer meet their needs at a time when service cuts is limiting the range of services on offer.

Services will need to quickly adapt our methods of working and re-engage with a harm reduction/minimisation approach if we are to respond adequately to the risky drug and sexual behaviour in some communities. In the age of legal highs we need to teach people how to minimise the risks, in the age of older drug and alcohol users we need to develop care facilities to cope with those who continue to use illicit drugs.  We need to respond to the drug and alcohol use of all where this is problematic not just the marginalised in society.

I am concerned at the failure of commissioning structures and policy to recognise that some of the best work of drug and alcohol services is in supporting those who have yet to become drug or alcohol free to stay alive and survive and find shelter and food from day to day, along with minimising the potential risks they face.

Current developing drug use patterns in many ways remind me of the 60’s and 70’s and e-cigarettes could be the most significant change in administration routes in a generation both for good and bad.

Given that I have been raising the issue for nearly three years now my third theme was how substance misuse organisations are coping in the evolving funding and commissioning landscape.

In less than a minute to cover the ground I decided on a poetic delivery style, more for less, increased involvement of volunteers and mutual aid, adapt or die, diversify and innovate, mergers and partnerships, and for some bankruptcy.  We are seeing the extinction of the small agency and the serious threat to larger organisations as a result of tender destabilisation.

Sadly services are also operating in a much reduced voluntary sector with far fewer local organisations on the ground to share the load as a result of the bleak funding ice age for the sector which is giving every indication of getting worse.

What I was going to say about Blenheim, but had to cut when 5 minutes became 3, was the following:

“At Blenheim we have completely re-organised our approach to manage in the new commissioning world with a clear vision of who we are this involved some clear choices:

  • We chose to be a charity,
  • We chose to say focussed on the needs of those with drug and alcohol problems
  • We chose to focus on skills of our staff and delivering high quality services.
  • We chose to stand up for and campaign on behalf of our beneficiaries who are mothers , brothers, sisters and grandparents, work colleagues and friends not just people to be defined and stigmatised by their drug and alcohol use.

Small and medium size organisations can survive but they have to fight and be clear about why they deserve to make a difference for the people they serve.

We have the best alcohol and drug treatment system in the world much of what is good has come from the diversity of the small.  Fight for it, and fight for the diversity of the small.”

Why Blenheim is a passionate supporter of the campaign to eradicate Hep C

24 Apr

As CEO of Blenheim I have been concerned for years about the poor access to treatment for drug and alcohol users with hepatitis C. Late in 2013, I read the foreword from The Hepatitis C Trust report “The Uncomfortable Truth: Hep C in England: The State of the Nation” written by Charles Gore. I decided for Blenheim and I that the time for concern was over the time to act had arrived. Please read below the foreword that had such an impact upon me.

“There must be no more excuses for the rising tide of deaths from hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is a preventable and curable virus. The fact that deaths from the virus have nearly quadrupled since 1996 is a scandal. It is absolutely unacceptable that half of those living with hepatitis C are still undiagnosed and a mere 3% of those infected are treated each year.

This report reveals plainly the link between hepatitis C and deprivation. Almost half of patients with hepatitis C who go to hospital are from the poorest fifth of society.

It begs the question: has hepatitis C been overlooked for all these years, resulting in spiralling hospital admissions and deaths, because of the people it impacts? Has it been ignored and under-prioritised because most of the people living with, and dying from, the virus are from the most marginalized, vulnerable, deprived groups of society?

One thing is certain: if the health service is to reduce health inequalities and “improve the health of the poorest, fastest”, hepatitis C must be addressed.

Almost ten years ago a ‘Hepatitis C Action Plan for England’ was published by the Department of Health, recognising hepatitis C as an overlooked condition, a “Cinderella service”. However, the Action Plan did not contain any benchmarks, targets, timelines, monitoring or evaluation measures to ensure implementation of the actions. As a result, implementation was patchy at best and now, almost a decade on, many hepatitis C patients are never assessed for liver damage or offered potentially life-saving treatment.

However, the future could be bright. Treatments for hepatitis C have improved in recent years and new drugs with almost 100% cure rates and very few side effects are expected to be approved in the next few years. Furthermore, the emphasis on addressing public health and health inequalities in the recent NHS reforms should make tackling hepatitis C a priority.

Public Health England, local authorities, NHS England and clinical commissioning groups have a tremendous opportunity to work together to tackle hepatitis C. This report summarises the current ‘state of the nation’ of hepatitis C in England and challenges the new NHS to work together to provide hepatitis C patients with the care they need and deserve and in too many cases have not been receiving.

With coordinated and effective action to diagnose and offer treatment and care to everyone with hepatitis C, The Hepatitis C Trust believes that the virus could be effectively eradicated in England within a generation. Let’s stop talking about it. Let’s do it.”

Charles Gore

Blenheim is fully committed to ensuring this powerful vision becomes a reality and over the next few blogs I will share with you what we have been doing to support The Hepatitis C Trust and others to ensure we eradicate hep C.

Blenheim Recovery Stories

14 Apr

#15 of 50 Recovery Stories http://blenheim50.wordpress.com

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Blenheim Recovery Story

7 Apr

#14 of 50 recovery stories http://blenheim50.wordpress.com

Kev's story

Public health ring fenced funding not safe in PHE and Local Authority hands

2 Apr

Blenheim is extremely concerned that Local Authorities are diverting ring fenced funds for public health which includes money for drug and alcohol services to fund other services. Blenheim adds its voice to that of the Faculty of Public Health which has called on Ministers and the National Audit Office to more closely scrutinise how the system is working.

Local authorities across England are diverting ring fenced funds for public health to wider council services to plug gaps caused by government budget cuts a BMJ investigation has found. The BMJ also found that public health staffing in some parts of the country is being scaled back to save money. Professional organisations have warned that public health’s voice may be drowned out in local government and that its workforce is spread too thinly.

The investigation found examples of councils reducing funding for a wide range of public health services, including those for substance misuse, sexual health, smoking cessation, obesity, and school nursing. The BMJ found that many local authorities have deployed public health funds to support wider council services that are vulnerable to cuts, such as trading standards, citizens’ advice bureaux, domestic abuse services, housing, parks and green spaces, and sport and leisure centres.

Only 45% of respondents to a recent BMA survey of public health professionals working in local authorities and at Public Health England believed that the public health grant was being used appropriately in their area, while almost half (49.6%) believed that the grant was seen “as a resource to be raided” by local government.

The BMA’s survey also highlighted fear about future staffing levels in public health, with just 12% of respondents believing that there would be enough substantive consultant posts available to serve the needs of the population in 10 years’ time.

The Association of Directors of Public Health told the BMJ that it was particularly concerned about a vacuum in public health leadership at the top of local government, with a quarter of director posts currently unfilled or filled by temporary appointments.

I am even more concerned about Public Health England’s (PHE) apparent failure to adequately ensure that the public health money is spent in line with the ring fence.

The national authority, Public Health England, has said that it supported local authorities making tough decisions and that it was right for public health grants—totalling £2.8bn across England for 2014-15 – to be used to leverage wider public health benefits across the far larger spend of local government.

Duncan Selbie the head of PHE said “The duty is to improve the public’s health, not to provide a public health service.”

At Blenheim our translation is it is about improving the health of the overall population not treating people who are ill. This is particularly unfortunate for those whose treatment is the responsibility of local authorities and PHE. PHE seems to be giving the green light to local authorities to loot and plunder the ring fenced public health grant at will.

This will then come as little comfort to those who now rely on the specialist health services to support them overcome problems with drugs and alcohol and brings into question whether these services and a relevant proportion of the funding should be transferred back to NHS England which is about providing a public health service.

As part of its investigation the BMJ issued requests under freedom of information legislation to all 152 upper tier local authorities in England (most of which are unitary, county or city councils), asking for details of all services commissioned and decommissioned since April 2013 and for details of commissioning intentions for the coming year.

Of the 143 authorities that provided information, almost a third (45) have decommissioned at least one service since April 2013, while others have cut funding to certain services, the BMJ found. Many councils are decommissioning individual contracts for services such as sexual health and substance misuse and then re-commissioning new integrated services to make efficiency savings. Other authorities have decommissioned services that they said were not having the desired outcome on public health or delivering value for money.

In total, more than half of authorities (78) have commissioned or re-commissioned at least one service since April 2013, and the pace of change is set to escalate this year as councils carry out root and branch reviews of services after the year of consolidation.

Blenheim Recovery Story

31 Mar

#13 of 50 recovery stories http://blenheim50.wordpress.com

Angie's story

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Germaine de Larch | Writer, Artist using photography as a medium, Art-Activist. This site is for my words. For my images, visit germainedelarch.co.za or germainedelarch.tumblr.com

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In 2014 Blenheim is celebrating 50 years of social action and every week we will be sharing a story of recovery from our service users

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