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London to get first detox unit to help homeless people beat addiction

The new centre will open on June 14 and “plug a known gap in treatment facilities” after the London Mayor, central government and health groups joined forces
The Addiction Clinical Care Suite will open its doors on June 14 at St Thomas’ Hospital in Lambeth, South London. Image: Ian Abbott/Flickr

London will get its first dedicated detox unit for homeless people next week in a bid to “plug a known gap in treatment facilities” for addiction and offer people a path off the streets for good.

The Addiction Clinical Care Suite will open its doors on June 14 at St Thomas’ Hospital in Lambeth, South London, to help people beat serious alcohol and substance dependence. The pan-London partnership behind the centre will also offer initiatives to improve healthy eating, stop smoking and help mental wellbeing.

The new unit is a vital step towards improving health for people without a stable home. ONS figures found the average age of death for homeless people in England and Wales was 46 years for men and 43 for women while almost two in five deaths in 2019 were related to drug poisoning.

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“The window for helping those with addictions can often be incredibly small and ensuring immediate access to appropriate detoxification and treatment can be life changing,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan. “The health issues experienced by people who are homeless are often complex and entrenched, there are no quick fixes.

“Therefore, it is vital we continue to invest in addiction support and substance misuse therapies to address these life-threatening health inequalities.”

The project is bringing a joined-up approach to tackling addiction among rough sleepers in London, a development which experts have said is crucial to addressing the problem.

homeless addiction detox unit in London
20210609 John Archer consultant, Alison Keating PHE and Shantelle Quashie lead nurse
Consultant John Archer (left), Alison Keating, head of alcohol, drugs and tobacco at Public Health England London (centre) and Shantelle Quashie, lead nurse, mark the launch of the Addiction Clinical Care Suite at St Thomas' Hospital on Wednesday. Image credit: Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust

With central government grants funding the project, Public Health England London have led the creation of the detox unit, joining forces with the Greater London Authority, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and London’s borough councils. 

Referrals will come from across London and people who receive treatment will be connected with local authorities to find a long-term home once their detox period is complete.

As well as receiving support to take their first steps on a journey away from addiction to alcohol and drugs, a team of psychiatrists and psychologists will be on hand to help patients recover from the trauma of life on the streets and harmful substance use.

“We are delighted to have been able to lead on the creation of this fantastic new unit that will provide life-changing and life-saving treatments to some of London’s most vulnerable homeless people,” Alison Keating, head of alcohol, drugs and tobacco at PHE London.

“Joint working with some of the city’s leading organisations has helped us to provide this avenue off the streets and out of addiction. We will continue to work across organisational boundaries to build on this innovation and make a real and sustained difference to London’s most vulnerable populations.”

Eddie Hughes, rough sleeping minister, added that the project is part of the UK government’s £750 million spending on homelessness and rough sleeping this year, including £52m allocated directly to substance misuse support services.

Hughes said: “The detox unit at St Thomas’ Hospital will offer transformative care to rough sleepers in London suffering from addiction, to ensure some of London’s most vulnerable people get the help they need.”

Grassroots campaigners Museum of Homelessness (MOH) also praised the move, insisting “it’s really difficult, if not impossible, to access detox for people who are homeless” on Twitter.

MOH’s own homeless deaths count found 976 people died while rough sleeping or living in temporary or unstable accommodation in 2020 and attributed 36 per cent of the deaths to drug and alcohol use.