More than 1,200 people across Northern Ireland are waiting to access addiction services, according to new figures.
t comes after a spate of deaths of individuals with addiction issues in Belfast, with calls for urgent support and interventions to be put in place to tackle the problem.
Figures from the Department of Health (DoH) show that, at the end of May, there were 1,239 people here waiting to access addiction and recovery services. Of these, 50 have been waiting between nine and 13 weeks, while 142 have been waiting between six and nine weeks, and 348 have been on the waiting list for between three and six weeks. The remaining 524 people have been waiting up to three weeks.
The Northern Health Trust had the highest number of people on the waiting list at 385, followed by the Southern Trust (301), Western Trust (224), South Eastern Trust (178), and the Belfast Trust, which had 151 people waiting.
Alliance Party health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA said: “This is a classic area where early intervention is absolutely essential.
“It must be suitably resourced to ensure waiting times do not come to exceed 13 weeks and are pushed down rather than up.”
SDLP MLA Cara Hunter, chair of the Assembly’s all party group on addiction and dual diagnosis, said that, given that many people who are seeking treatment and need recovery services require an intervention, facing weeks or even months to access help could have a “ A significant negative impact on both a patient’s physical and mental health.
“We have a growing problem with addiction in our society and it’s important that we have the services in place to meet demand,” she said.
“During the coronavirus pandemic we saw spike in the number of people engaging in substance misuse, with many struggling to cope with the extraordinary situation they were experiencing, with the introduction of lockdown leading to routines being disrupted and family life being instantly changed for many.
“I appreciate that across many of our trust areas patients are being seen within around three months, but for many this delay in treatment could lead to harmful consequences and spiraling deeper into addiction.
“If we really want to deal with this scourge on our society that has touched nearly every family in the north then we need to ensure if we have properly resourced and available treatments like dual diagnosis to give patients the best chance of recovery.
“Regrettably our efforts to deal with these issues and health service reform in general continue to be thwarted by the DUP’s continued boycott of our institutions.”
The DoH has been contacted for comment.
The news comes after a special meeting was held between Belfast City Council and various statutory agencies to discuss the recent deaths in the city among those impacted by homelessness and addiction.
Belfast’s Lord Mayor Tina Black said the council will continue to work with Stormont and agencies to find ways to Solve issues associated with addiction and homelessness, and also to end long-term homelessness in Belfast.
“At today’s meeting, the council and elected members reaffirmed their commitment to support the work of the relevant bodies in justice, health and communities to help those who are vulnerable and in need of support,” she said.
Latest figures, for 2020, show there were 218 drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland over the course of the year – the highest level on record. The data also shows that the Belfast Trust area and the Belfast local government district has the highest number of drug-related deaths per 100,000 population, at 19.8 and 21.2, respectively.