Graham Beech opinion
This weekend, hundreds of people from all walks of life will gather for a party in the splendid grounds of a former stately home in Wiltshire to celebrate the fact that they are alive and well. There will be music, yoga sessions and a stall selling self-help books. But this will be no quaint village fete. It is a reunion, and all the people standing in the shadow of Clouds House, a world-famous residential addiction treatment centre, will be a testament to the powers of stable recovery.
This is no small story. Quantitative analysis shows that for every person who rebuilds their life in the course of their recovery programme, another five people around them will benefit indirectly. So there is no question that the positive impact of well-managed addiction treatment is huge for society, given that the range of addictions we are prey to in the modern world (gambling and opioids, for example) is growing all the time.
However, at the same time, addiction treatment is attracting the wrong kind of publicity. The Sunday Times’ “cash for patients” exposé, which revealed unscrupulous practices involving some in the medical profession, followed reports that eye-watering sums had been paid by middlemen, both to Google for advertising, and to treatment centres for accepting their referrals. This follows a very worrying report by the Care Quality Commission last November, which revealed that around three out of four independently run rehabilitation clinics were failing to deliver basic standards of care.
The greatest concern about the negative publicity is the effect it is having on people who require life-saving treatment, and who may now be dissuaded from seeking it. Addiction treatment, when done in the right manner, puts the necessary building blocks in place to enable long-term stable recovery to flourish. Everyone knows someone who is affected, and at Action on Addiction we frequently get calls from people who are in the life-destroying grip of addiction and who do not necessarily know whom to turn to for help.
These negative stories should act as a wake-up call to the sector. Clouds House does not pay referral agents, and obviously we take a dim view of this practice. As a registered charity, we have strict guidelines to follow. Our mission is to reach more people in more places, and we’re always looking for better ways of making our programmes more readily available to the people who need them.
This is no easy task. Google instituted a worldwide ban on advertising by treatment providers and, while this has recently been lifted, and a strict vetting process added, we remain determined to continue reaching out online to those most in need. Thanks to some pro bono expertise, we turned our efforts to search engine optimisation and, with the generous support of our donors, we have also managed to maintain a bursary scheme which helps to meet the cost of treatment for people unable to pay for it themselves. We are particularly proud of the work we do in this regard.
In the face of negative publicity, it is critically important that the sector does all it can to retain and reward practitioners who truly care about the people they work with and who completely understand the complexity of their addiction. We need those who embrace regulatory change and who participate wholeheartedly in improvement programmes focused around the people who receive our care. This is not just to restore the good name of the sector, but also because of the far-reaching benefits that recovery brings to individuals, families and society at large. The people who will be at our reunion celebration are living proof of that.
• Graham Beech is chief executive of Action on Addiction
Source: The Guardian