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by Louise Wilson
20 December 2021
In context: Proposed Right to Addiction Recovery Bill

In context: Proposed Right to Addiction Recovery Bill

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross wants to create a legal right to addiction recovery in a bid to tackle the alarmingly high numbers of drug and alcohol deaths per year in Scotland

What is a ‘right to recovery’?

Ross’s proposal is to enshrine in law a right for people with drug and alcohol addictions to access support services. It would mean Scottish ministers and health boards were obligated to provide treatment, and patients would be able to raise a legal challenge if this right is not being met.

While the debate has largely focused on residential rehab, the consultation for the proposed bill also includes a right to access other treatment options including detoxification, stabilisation and substitute prescription services.

Don’t patients already have a right to treatment?

While the NHS has a general duty to respond to health needs, this bill hopes to create a specific duty for addiction support. Proponents say this is necessary because the current system sees many people waiting many months for support and some are even turned away from their preferred service after being told it isn’t right for them.

Does the proposal do anything else?

Ross also wants to bring in a set of national standards and guidance on rehab access, including potentially a new complaints procedure where patients or their families feel treatment is being denied.

There is also a call for a change to funding to back up the new right, separate from the cash currently available to alcohol and drugs partnerships. This change would see the funding of rehab placements become demand-led, allowing services to be flexible and meet local needs in a bid to tackle a postcode lottery in services.

Will it work?

Obviously there’s no silver bullet when it comes to Scotland’s relationship with drugs and alcohol – a right to recovery alone won’t turn the tide overnight. But those in favour of the bill say it will open up support services and ensure substance misusers are treated the same as any other person struggling with a mental health condition.

However, the Scottish government has yet to take a decision on whether to back it. Ministers are waiting until they see the detail of the bill before voicing support or opposition and, in the meantime, say the government is doing what it can to support people. This includes the expansion of rehab beds, the medication-assisted treatment standards and a fresh campaign to tackle stigma to encourage more people to seek help.

What do people say about it?

"Drug deaths are our national shame. We lose far too many people each year. The system is broken, it is leaving people on the streets to die. It must be overhauled by enshrining rights in law immediately" - Douglas Ross MSP, proposer

"It does not appear to suggest anything that goes beyond what we are already doing, although it suggests that those things should be enshrined in legislation" - Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister

"The Right to Recovery Bill has been written by people in recovery to reinforce the right to free healthcare for people in addiction because the current legal protection isn’t enough... It will allow for accountability, challenge and judicial review where appropriate holistic treatment of choice isn’t offered" - Karen Biggs, chief executive of Phoenix Futures

"Once the bill has been published and I and others have had the opportunity to ensure that it will do what it says on the tin, I will give a view on it. I have an open mind about whether, at some point, we need to legislate" - Angela Constance, Minister for Drugs Policy

"Right to recovery laws change nothing if laws to criminalise are not repealed and basic harm reduction unavailable" - Peter Krykant, drugs campaigner

"It should not be controversial to demand that everyone gets the treatment they need. This bill will have widespread cross-party support when it comes forward. SNP MSPs have privately told us they will back the bill and several prominent Labour MSPs have publicly voiced support for it" - Annemarie Ward, FAVOR Scotland chief executive

What happens next?

This first consultation on the draft proposal remains open until 12 January. After analysis of responses, Ross will lodge a final proposal for the bill which will require the support of 18 other MSPs across two parties to proceed. If successful, he can then introduce a member’s bill, which would undergo the same three-stage process as any other piece of legislation.

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