NHS trusts link up to provide vital health checks for drug and alcohol users

Posted: 09/10/23

An innovative one-stop clinic to support drug and alcohol users with their respiratory health has been launched in Northumberland.

The respiratory service from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside, developed and provides the in-reach service at Northumberland Recovery Partnership (NRP) clinics.

It means that patients receiving treatment for addiction and substance misuse will also receive a lung health check, including detailed breathing tests, and review by a respiratory consultant and specialist nurse. Those with a new diagnosis will return for another session to support them with their condition.

The North East and North Cumbria has the highest prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the country, meaning this is a key regional issue.

This project is also about tackling health inequalities, as Prof Stephen Bourke, consultant respiratory physician at Northumbria Healthcare, explained.

“We know that people with drug and alcohol issues very often do not engage well with traditional healthcare services, despite being more likely to have problems with ill health,” he said.

“We realised that instead of waiting for them to come to us, we could go to them by working with our partners to provide what they need in one place. Attendance at clinics has been excellent, and most people seen had previously unrecognised or undertreated respiratory disease.”

Early feedback from patients has been excellent as well, with one service user saying: “The help I’m getting from all of you means a great deal to me, after many years of no one having any interest in my health condition (including doctors), I had just about lost all hope and giving up, so it’s a big thing to me to have someone who seems to have a real interest in trying to help me, so thanks again.”

Another said: “I have felt really valued, like they actually listen to me. I feel as if I am getting somewhere. I always feel dismissed by medical staff and fobbed off with ‘drug-seeking behaviour’ thrown at me. I know they write that in my notes.

“It’s great that the clinic is at NRP, I wouldn’t be keen to go to hospitals as I get scared of new places. I know the NRP staff and building, it’s familiar.”

Core20PLUS5 is NHS England’s national approach on healthcare inequalities, with Core 20 representing the most deprived 20% of the national population, PLUS referring to population groups identified at a local level, and 5 being the five areas of focus which require faster improvement.

People with substance use issues are an important group within the Core20PLUS5 programme as they experience some of the greatest disadvantages compared to the general population owing to their condition, their socioeconomic circumstances, their physical and mental health comorbidities, and stigma they experience due to their condition.

They also often live in parts of Northumberland that are among the 20% most deprived areas of England, while COPD is one of the five areas of focus.

The Northumberland Recovery Partnership is managed by Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW).

Chrissy Kurek, clinical manager at CNTW, said: “We are delighted to host the respiratory clinic in partnership with Northumbria Healthcare. In a short space of time, the service has already supported a number of service users to attend and receive appropriate diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. This has enabled us to enhance the care and treatment that our service users receive.

“The respiratory team bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise; Northumberland Recovery Partnership staff are learning a great deal about respiratory disease and the importance of timely identification and treatment. It is a great opportunity for our teams to work closely together.”

Patients receiving treatment from the Recovery Partnership will be identified for the one-stop shop approach, which will feature a one-and-a-half-hour appointment featuring lung function tests and time with both a consultant and respiratory specialist nurse.

Those with a new diagnosis will return to a single small group session with one of the respiratory fellows to go over education, promoting smoking cessation, vaccination, physical exercise, exacerbation recognition and management.

This project has been funded by the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care System Health Inequalities Fund, administered by Northumberland County Council Public Health.

Dr Jim Brown, consultant in public health at Northumberland County Council, said: “This has been a fantastic example of two NHS trusts working together to meet the health needs of people who experience some of the worst health outcomes in our population.

“By bringing services to where NRP service users are, it enables earlier detection and treatment of respiratory conditions in order to improve quality of life and prevent premature deaths. I would like to thank both teams for helping to make this happen.”