Drugs and alcohol workforce action plan 2023 to 2026

Sets out the key actions we will deliver over the next three years to address challenges experienced by the drugs and alcohol sector's workforce.

Ministerial Foreword

The Scottish Government remains firmly committed to our National Mission to reduce drug deaths and improve lives. Whilst the emerging signs indicate that we have started to turn the corner, and fewer people are now dying, the numbers remain unacceptably high and every life lost to drugs and alcohol use is a preventable tragedy.

Deaths devastate the lives of those left behind, family members, loved ones and friends. If we are to continue to reduce deaths, then we need to sustain momentum behind the National Mission over the remainder of this parliament and beyond.

However, the National Mission is not just about reducing deaths but also about improving the quality of life for people affected by drugs and alcohol. The evidence shows that many people using drugs or alcohol have experienced particularly high levels of trauma and adversity. This can often lead to multiple complex needs or comorbidities, requiring support from a wide range of services. We need a collaborative approach to support those affected. This requires staff and organisations, across all sectors of the workforce, to have the confidence, knowledge and skills to provide consistent, trauma-informed care and support.

Delivery of our entire National Mission requires us to have in place a skilled, resilient workforce. On a daily basis, the efforts of the workforce are saving and improving lives, in often challenging circumstances. It is essential that the workforce is provided with support to ensure they have the skills, opportunities, and resources to continue to do this.

I am aware that in recent years, staff working across multiple Health and Social Care settings have faced significant challenges. Furthermore, we know that these challenges are often more pronounced within the drugs and alcohol sector, whilst the vital work they deliver is too often not afforded equal status to their colleagues in other settings. This must change. Implementation of the actions identified in this Action Plan will help to drive that change.

It is important to remember that many in the workforce will have their own experience of trauma. We must ensure they are provided with care and support for their own mental health and wellbeing, in order to allow them to continue to provide care for others. This is key to creating a sustainable workforce with attractive career choices.

The Scottish Government’s ‘Drugs and Alcohol Workforce Action Plan’ sets out the key actions that we will support to deliver a sustainable, trauma-informed, skilled workforce with the capacity to deliver a person-centred, rights based approach. A workforce which is confident, valued for the work it does and is fully empowered to prevent deaths and improve lives.

The Scottish Government has listened to those best placed to understand workforce challenges, including those with lived and living experience of drug and alcohol use. What we have learned is that workforce challenges are complex and multifaceted. They have often transpired over time and regrettably, there are no ‘quick fixes’ which can instantly resolve them.

If we are to embed real and lasting improvement, then it is critical that we address both the symptoms and causes of the current challenges. Developing a sustainable workforce will be achieved through effective joint working and the Framework, of Plan, Attract, Train, Employ and Nurture, set out in the ‘National Workforce Strategy for Health and Social Care in Scotland’.[1]

This strategy sets out our commitment to significant investment, including over £11 million during this parliament to fund the establishment of the Centre for Workforce Supply and directly underwrite international recruitment activity for NHS Health Boards to grow our Health and Social Care workforce. We are also increasing the number of medical school places by 500 and recruiting 800 additional General Practitioners (GPs) over this parliament. Such investment will include those delivering drugs and alcohol services.

Drugs and alcohol services make up an incredibly important component of the wider Health and Social Care workforce, and much of the investment highlighted will positively impact service delivery. However, I am committed to ensuring the drugs and alcohol workforce also has specific investment. In addition to the £480,000 per year allocated to increase the number of number of trainees on Scottish Drugs Forum’s (SDF) Addiction/ Recovery Worker Training Programme (A/RWTP), this Action Plan will also be supported by £500,000 per year to support the workforce development activity identified.

I am committed to increasing the representation of people with lived and living experience in the workplace; whilst also recognising, and celebrating, the professional experience of those who have spent their careers developing expertise in this field. I recognise that this is one of the most challenging areas to work in; whilst it can also be amongst the most rewarding. The workforce can and does make a real difference to the lives of some of Scotland’s most marginalised citizens and we are hugely grateful for their efforts. If it were not for them, then we would not have achieved the progress made so far and we would not be able to continue this work.

This ‘Drugs and Alcohol Workforce Action Plan’ explains how we intend to drive improvement across the sector. This Action Plan reaffirms the value we place on the drugs and alcohol workforce and our determination to support them to do the best job they possibly can.


Email: drugsandalcoholworkforce@gov.scot

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