MICHAEL Matheson is being asked to intervene to stop cuts to 62 community health jobs including roles supporting people affected by drug and alcohol abuse.

Leading public sector trade union Unison has written to the health secretary to warn the cuts "make no sense when Scotland has the worst drug death tragedies in Europe".

It also warns that cutting back on community support for older people will increase delays to people getting out of hospital.

Reducing the number of drug related deaths and ending delays to hospital discharges are both key priorities for the Scottish Government with plans unveiled last week to decriminalise the personal use of all drugs in a bid to tackle the former issue.

The proposals by Glasgow's Health and Social Care Partnership follow budget cuts of £22m announced in March and approved by the Integration Joint Board - which administers social care, addiction and homelessness services.

Unison Scotland regional organiser Lorcan Mullen said: “Cutting these posts means the staffing crisis in Glasgow will get even worse. Employees can’t be expected to continue to work under such severe pressure.

“Cutting jobs in alcohol and drug rehabilitation services makes no sense when Scotland has the worst drug death tragedies in Europe.

“Ministers must stop restore these jobs immediately if they are serious about reducing drug deaths, pressure in hospitals and improving the health of the people of Scotland.”
In its letter, Unison says: "These cuts do not just mean a permanent reduction in staffing, but a reduction in services provided to the people of Glasgow.”

It adds: “Cuts to these services mean that the persistent, life-limiting health inequalities experienced by the population of Glasgow, in comparison to elsewhere in Scotland, will grow.”

The letter also describes how staff are "exhausted, morale at rock bottom and in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis with most teams working short staffed.” 

It continues: “To remove posts from this area just locks in staffing shortages and jeopardises the the Scottish Government’s aim of delivering consistent, safe and high-quality care to people and families across Scotland.”

Under the plans six drug and alcohol support posts would be lost. The remaining 56 community health and social care jobs are in areas such as mental health counselling, support for the elderly, health visiting, school nursing and roles for people who work with those with complex needs.

Scottish drugs minister Elena Whitham last Friday called for the decriminalisation of all drugs for personal use.

Her proposals would require the backing of the UK Government as the classification of drugs is a matter reserved to Westminster,

Speaking to The Scotsman today, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack claimed the policy was more about picking a “constitutional battle” than helping people, pointing to Scotland’s death rate from drugs being four times higher than in England.

Mr Jack, who will stand down at the next general election, claimed the Scottish Government were not using the tools they already had.

He said: “The Scottish Government have already more or less said to the police ‘don’t lift people for possession’, and that hasn’t been the case in England where deaths have been way lower.

“I still think the right approach is to take the health solution, rather than to decriminalise them [drugs]. The Scottish Government has already tried a soft approach and it hasn’t helped the statistics anyway. It feels to me like a constitutional battle. They have the same tools that exist in the other administrations, I just think they need to start using the tools.”

Mr Jack stressed he was willing to work with the Scottish Government on tackling drug deaths, adding: “We would like them to come back and ask for our help to address this. We did make the offer when Kit Malthouse was the policing minister.”

A total of 1330 people died of  drug misuse in Scotland in 2021, nine fewer than the previous year, according to the latest official figures.

However, Scotland continues to have by far the highest drug death rate recorded by any country in Europe with the upward trend had been accelerating since 2013.

The latest figure of 1,330 is the second highest annual total on record and Scotland's drug misuse rate remains around 3.7 times that for the UK as a whole.

A spokesman for Glasgow health and social care partnership said: “While difficult funding decisions have had to be made as a result of the challenging funding conditions we are all facing, the reality is that this decision will not impact front-line services as many of these posts had not been filled for some time.”

A spokesman for NHSGCC said: “Whilst the decision to remove a number of vacant posts within health and social care was taken by Glasgow City IJB, we have supported them to ensure that their approach is in line with our partnership working arrangements.” 

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Decisions on how best to deliver services to local communities are ultimately for integration authorities and locally elected representatives to make. However, we expect that whenever changes take place, services continue to provide the necessary support needed.”