During my investigation for BBC Radio 4 I have discovered that local authorities in England have cut over £300 million from funding for drug and alcohol treatment in 5 years. In the same period deaths from heroin and morphine overdoses in England have more than doubled. The number of drug and alcohol related deaths in England is now at the highest level since records began. The governments own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs links the cuts to the deaths and says that, as further cuts are planned, deaths will soar even higher. Listen to my report on Radio 4.
I am back on the BBC! They liked my story about the “drastic” and “shocking” cuts to prison drug treatment at a time when even the Prisons Minister says the drugs situation in English prisons is “unacceptable” so much that it was headlining the news. Have a listen and let me know what you think.
My writing about addiction and mental health for national newspapers is having a major impact! A Cross party Parliamentary group of UK MPs is to meet on July 12th to discuss my latest Guardian investigation – massive funding cuts for drug and alcohol treatment which is leading to deaths. http://ow.ly/sCJ030czKgt
Another exclusive groundbreaking story was for the Times showing the levels of alcohol related brain damage among older people had gone up by more than 300% https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/huge-rise-in-middle-aged-drinkers-with-brain-damage-n5zgcwzf5
And for the Sunday Times on the resignation of the Chief Executive of the Priory and extent of suicides at the UK’s largest private mental health provider. The Priory said the two were unconnected. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/deaths-spark-care-fears-at-prioryhospitals-jdtf38khp
I have also written about domestic violence and abuse for the Telegraph with harrowing case studies http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/black-bruises-didnt-recognise-domestic-abuse-calls-reach-all/
Please send me exclusive story ideas about mental health and addiction that have not been covered before by national media. I am now working on stories for BBC Radio as well as the Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Times and the Telegraph
This return to professional journalism at 12 years clean is welcome after crashing out of my career as a reporter for the BBC and national newspapers because of my drug addiction and mental health problems in 2005.
Thank you for supporting my blog without which this return to professional journalism would never have happened.
After crashing out of my career as a reporter for the BBC and national newspapers because of my drug addiction and mental health problems in 2005 I am now, at 12 years clean, a professional journalist again! I have written reports about mental health and addiction for the Sunday Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/deaths-spark-care-fears-at-prioryhospitals-jdtf38khp The Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/huge-rise-in-middle-aged-drinkers-with-brain-damage-n5zgcwzf5 the Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/black-bruises-didnt-recognise-domestic-abuse-calls-reach-all/ I also have upcoming commissions for the Guardian and several ideas for the BBC!
Thank you for all your support for my blog.
The CEOs of homelessness charities Shekinah and Thames Reach have strongly criticized the government for not raising duty on super strength white cider which they said is killing more homeless people than heroin and crack.
The CEO of Thames Reach Jeremy Swain said “the evidence showing that the drinks are killing people is beyond dispute and each month that goes past leads to further deaths.” John Hamblin CEO of Shekinah Charity said “we see daily examples of people just killing themselves from consuming very large quantities of ridiculously cheap super strength cider”. Both said they were “very disappointed” by the decision.
The decision has also been condemned by Joanne Good, the mother of 16 year old Megan Craig Wilkinson who died after drinking 1.5 litres of super strength cider Frosty Jack. Joanne Good has lobbied MPs to ban or raise duty on what she called “pocket money” cider. Professor Sir Ian Gilmore Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance said super strength white cider is almost exclusively drunk by children, street drinkers and the homeless because of its sweet taste and low price.
It is possible to buy a 3 litre bottle of super strength cider which contains as much alcohol as 22 shots of vodka for less than £3.50 or $4. Cider which can be up to 9% alcohol has the lowest duty of any alcohol product in the UK at only 5p per unit less than a third of the rate for beers at the same strength. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce wrote in the Huffington Post that the Chancellor needed “to call time on the ability to buy a can of cider for cheaper than a bottle of water.”
Joanne Good told The Mirror: “I felt disappointed that there’s no immediate rise on the cheap cider that is causing so many problems in society. Hopefully this would put children off from drinking it and maybe a life could be saved. If it was up to me, I would like to see ciders like these removed from sale.”
Both Joanne Good, Thames Reach and the Alcohol Health Alliance welcomed the fact that the government would be consulting on introducing a higher rate of duty on cider of 5.5 to 7.5% volume. But John Hamblin CEO of Shekinah Charity said “they have been consulting for years there’s been lots of evidence presented to government about the harms of super strength cider but there just seems to be a reluctance in government to tax people’s leisure. But you and I don’t go round to meals at friend’s houses on Saturday night when someone brings out a bottle of White lightening. But there’s somehow a perception that higher taxes on super strength cider and lager will impact on Joe Public that’s not the case.” Conservative MP Fiona Bruce agreed saying “80% of cider sales would be completely unaffected by such a move.”
Cider has had an artificially low rate of duty since the Second World War to encourage people to plant apple trees. But John Hamblin said “We are not targeting people drinking craft ciders which are made from apples this super strength cider should not even be called cider. It’s an insult to call it cider as its never seen an apple in its life it’s just a concoction of chemicals.”
When Joanne Good’s MP Labour’s Mary Glindon brought up the issue of super strength cider at Prime Minister’s question time Theresa May said the government had already dealt with it. “We have taken action through the duty system so these high-strength ciders and beers are taxed more than equivalent lower strength products.We have also, of course, taken action on the very cheap alcohol by banning sales below duty plus VAT.”
But Alcohol Research UK director of research Dr James Nicholls said “The price per unit for strong ciders is considerably lower than beer at the same strength. There is a lot of evidence it is drink by people with serious alcohol problems.”
Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: the government needed to “move the tax system towards a more sensible scheme where the stronger alcohol is, the more highly it is taxed. By taxing these drinks more strongly, the government will also encourage producers to lower the alcohol content in the drinks.”
John Hamblin of Shekinah said “people won’t stop drinking because you put the price up we are working with very vulnerable complex people when you increase the price they come off the super strength lager and cider and switch to lower strength say 4%. We not only see a rapid increase in their health but it makes it far easier for us to engage with people.”
The managing director of Aston Manor, the firm that makes Frosty Jack’s, was, perhaps unsurprisingly, very unhappy with the government’s consultation on the issue.
“We are very surprised that in the detail of the Budget Statement there is mention of a plan to consult on a new duty rate ‘to target white cider’,” Gordon Johncox told the Mirror.
“We often point to the inaccurate mythology that exists around white cider and we are disappointed that without evidence this announcement has been made. We will participate fully in the consultation process and provide evidence that dispels the myths that exist”
But MP Fiona Bruce said “opinion polling for the Alcohol Health Alliance indicates 66% of the public support higher taxes on white cider. Perhaps most importantly, Public Health England’s recent report clearly states that tackling affordability would be the best way to reduce alcohol harm. Market leader Frosty Jack’s is consistently ranked among the top brands consumed by underage dependent drinkers. .A quarter of patients in alcohol treatment services drink white ciders, and of these nearly half drink them exclusively.”
She added “such measures have worked in the past: consumption of super-strength beer fell by a quarter in response to the creation of a higher rate duty band in 2011.”
Not on mental health according to leading charities Sane and Mind. They say this money is partly being spent by NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups to plug gaps in their funding for physical health problems. They say less money is actually feeding through to front line mental health services, dealing with people in crisis and suicidal than before. The Chief Executive of SANE Majorie Wallace says the number of people calling their helplines is higher than at any point during the helplines 20 year history as people cannot access crisis care
The government is keen to stress it’s spending more on mental health. The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says its spending £10 billion more and 1 billion more than 2 years ago. The £11.7 billion budget for mental health in 2016/17 is double what it was 5 years ago. But the government has refused to ring fence the money it allocates to mental health which means charities say the money is being diverted. Two thirds of mental health trusts said recently that their budgets have been cut and 57% of Clinical Commissioning Groups who responded to an Freedom of Information request in 2016 said they planned to reduce the proportion they spent on mental health.
Extra investment has been promised. “The NHS has committed to investing an additional £1bn in mental health services by the end of 2020-21.” said the Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer. “This is welcome but we need to make sure that it materialises and reaches the front line. The same goes for all the other pots of money announced over the last couple of years,” he said.
Although the government has put money into non urgent services such as the talking therapy provider IAPT, SANE says that crisis care had been cut. Its Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace SANE said that 4000 adult psychiatric beds and 1500 Child and Adolescent psychiatric beds had closed in the past few years. The Chief Executive of Mind agreed that crisis care had been cut saying “NHS mental health services have been subjected to significant cuts over recent years, more so than the acute sector, at a time of rising demand. This has left some parts of the system struggling to cope, which of course has a huge impact on patient care.”
Suicide rates of people being treated by Community mental health teams have doubled in recent years which SANE say is a sign that community care is massively overstretched and not working.
Labour say spending on mental health fell by 8% in real terms during the coalition government and a report in January 2015 said spending on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services had decreased by 6%. The government says this has now been corrected and that has invested £7 million more in CAMHS psychiatric beds in 2015/2016.
Due to the shortage of inpatient CAMHS beds 47% of CAMHS patients are now treated in private hospitals often many miles from their home. The average cost of a child staying in a private psychiatric hospital is 800 a night. Theresa May has pledged to end out of area placement for CAMHS patients by 2021. But SANE Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace cast doubt on whether this would happen as no significant new funding had been announced.
The Prime Minister’s speech earlier this week promised a raft of initiatives to help children and adults with mental health problems. It said that teachers in schools would receive mental health “first aid training” to spot signs of mental illness and that links between schools and local NHS mental health services would be strengthened. It also promised extra support for people with mental health problems in the workplace and £15 million extra for “crisis cafes” and clinics. All this was welcomed by SANE and MIND but MIND said “our job is to ensure that the commitment is met. We need to see sustained leadership to make sure services and support improve for all of us with mental health problems. Having been neglected for decades, we need to see it made a priority for decades to come”
How do you organise a birthday party when your friends are at opposite ends of the political spectrum and want to kill each other? I have joined the Conservative Party, largely to find a husband but failing that a career. I have just become involved in politics this year and want to become the government’s Minister for Addiction and Mental Health. This comes after crashing out of my career as a BBC reporter because of my cocaine addiction and mental health problems. I have sent my CV to the health ministry with entries such as “Lost in Rehab 2005-2008” and “Only sane inmate at the Prison View Psychiatric Unit 2008-2009.” Strangely they haven’t called me back…
To kick start my apparently moribund political career I therefore want to invite some of my new Conservative friends to my birthday party. Unfortunately one of my best friends, who saved my sanity when I had a nervous breakdown, says that all Conservatives are members of a “toxic neo-fascist political party.” Obviously he’s a supporter of the hard-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who evokes adulation among his acolytes and despair from his detractors. A Corbynista comedian my friend’s routine includes an explanation as to why God has always voted Labour. He’s so left wing he called his only child Fidel. And she’s a girl. I feel a diatribe from him may hinder my political prospects. And he is not the only Corbynista friend I have in fact all my friends are solid Labour supporters. I too was a socialist until the stratospheric leap in value of my house in Notting Hill, which I bought for £400,000 in 1999, convinced me I was a Tory.
I have now gone from Conservative to Confused as the new UKIP lite incarnation of the Tory Party has made me and many other pro-European Tories seriously consider defecting to the Liberal Democrats. Indeed I was campaigning for the Liberal Democrats (and looking for a boyfriend) in the Richmond Park by election and was ecstatic when they won.
I have thought of a potential solution of seating the Corbynistas at one end of the table and the Conservatives at the other with large signs at either end. I will sit in the middle physically preventing any contact between the two warring sides. Milling around is dangerous so there will be no chatting after the meal or offers of people to come back to my house. As soon as someone gets up to leave I will escort them swiftly out of the restaurant pausing solely to check they have paid. I am still extremely nervous and have put the Samaritans on speed dial (who were very sympathetic when I phoned them saying I was heartbroken as I’d failed to win a handbag on eBay) for the birthday. Will this be the Last Supper of my Sanity?
Today for the first time in 12 years and for the first time in my entire recovery I spent Christmas with my family. In December 2004 just before I got into recovery I spent Christmas Day alone with a bag of cocaine and litre of vodka. That rock bottom was the start of my recovery journey. Every Christmas since then I have spent away from my family. Before I went into family therapy with my father the relationship was too strained for me to contemplate spending Christmas with him. But I hope there will be other Christmases in future. It was the first time I had been to my father’s house since he bought it almost 10 years ago. After practically bursting into tears 5 minutes after I arrived as I was so upset it turned into a fabulous day. Unfortunately there will be no Christmases with my mother who died 10 years ago this year. But despite my issues with her she has given me the freedom to write which is amazing. I dream about her all the time. RIP
At last I have made some money from writing! This is the first time I have been paid to write for my entire twelve year recovery. It is true that I have only recently started trying to resurrect my freelance journalism career, buoyed by the success of the blog. In the first year of the blog I had more than 30,000 hits. The piece, for the Sunday Times News Review, was about my quest for a husband at the Tory Party Conference. Alas I did not find one but I did find a career. I now want to become an MP so I can get my dream job of being the Minister of Addiction and Mental Health. Of course I crashed out of my journalism career at the beginning of 2005 because of my rampant cocaine addiction, bulimia and general loopiness and ended up in rehab for 5 years. My C.V. simply refers to this period as “lost in rehab” which is better than “Only sane patient at the Prison View psychiatric unit (in my own head at least)” All this will now be chalked down to “research” for my future job.
I have created a “news agency” of mental health and addiction news so I can select stories to pitch to the newspapers. I am also very much getting up to speed on all aspects of mental health. And I plan to apply for funding for my idea to help everyone who goes into a doctor’s surgery with a mental health or addiction problem in the New Year. I am also preparing my application to stand as a councillor for the Conservative Party. There is a section on the form where they say “Is there anything about you that could be an embarrassment to the Party?” Let’s hope they don’t read about my previous 22 hour a day cocaine addiction or experiences such as “Being seduced by a (female) teenage stripper who’d killed someone the week before (and then stole my car).” I will simply say on the application form “I am open about the fact that I am in (long term) recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.”
Anyway I am taking a bit of a break from the blog and have resolved to only write something when I have something interesting to say. Now the Referendum is over, as is my hobnobbing with the Prime Minister and Mayor of London, that is less often than before. Mr Right has tragically gone from my life making him just another Mr Unavailable. But this first paycheck for my writing in twelve years could not be missed out. I will keep you posted on what happens in my writing career and non-existent love life in the next few weeks. Actually I have a man staying in my house for the weekend, unfortunately in my lodger’s room not mine. But after no man overnight in my house for many years I am hoping the unaccustomed male energy will shift my luck with men.
If politics is Rock for ugly people then the party conferences are like going on tour. Rumours of sleeping around and extra marital affairs are rife. But in this febrile sexual and political atmosphere is it possible to find love?
I was extremely excited about attending my first ever Tory Party Conference where I was trying to advance my political career – I am applying to stand as a local Councillor and want to become an MP. But there was another reason for my enthusiasm. My efforts to find Mr Right through online dating have been as successful as a polar bear trying to find an ice floe in the Sahara. And when I announced on a recent date with a promising man on lefty website Guardian Soulmates that I was a Tory he immediately ordered the bill. I need someone intelligent and interested in politics – as since I became one of the London Team leaders for Britain Stronger in Europe during the Referendum campaign I have been mildly obsessed. Before the campaign I had never been involved in politics as no issue had moved me enough.
I had worked out long in advance my agenda (and outfits) for the Conference to fulfil my dual purpose of communicating that I am a serious politician in waiting but also, of course, look hot. I was obviously, going to attend all the main speeches by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. But I’d also selected a host of fringe events where I was likely to meet Mr Right. My Conservatives friends say it has long been received wisdom in the party that joining the Young Conservatives is a way of finding a partner and were optimistic at my chances.
The first event I attended was the Prime Minister’s and Foreign Secretary’s speech on Brexit. This required a demure outfit and rapt attention to the speakers with no obvious ogling of men. I have to say I was slightly disturbed by the emphasis on controlling immigration. I do not want my cleaner or builder to go home. I then went to the Conservative Group for Europe reception as I am positively allergic to boyfriends who voted for Brexit. In fact my primary chat up line at the Conference was “which side were you on Leave or Remain?” Unfortunately there was no one I fancied at the reception. Next on my tour was the Conservative Friends of Cyprus reception – I have limited interest in Cyprus but a great deal of interest in Greek men. This required a slight change of outfit to show a hint of cleavage. As the Tories are now more egalitarian since the demise of David Cameron I had left all my designer bags at home. The Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was there prompting frenzied adulation and shouts of “Boris Boris Boris” from the audience a sort of Tory version of One Direction. Apart from obviously me who blames Boris for Brexit.
On the Monday I was going to attend the speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But at the last minute I decided this was a waste of time as the Chancellor is married and not really my type so I went to a meeting of pro-European Tories instead.
Then came the absolute crack pipe of my political and dating plans “How can Conservatives win the Black and Minority Ethnic votes they need to win in 2020.” The constituency I am interested in standing in as an MP has a high number of ethnic voters but also, as I am half Jamaican, I think my political soulmate would be another ethnic Tory. The Conservatives secured over a million black, Asian and Minority Ethnic votes in the 2015 elections and are closing the gap on Labour. Alas there was no one I fancied at the meeting but I did get a picture with a black female Conservative MP who said she would help me get elected.
My primary interest in politics is to work with the government in addiction and mental health so I went to an event about supporting families with these problems. I pitched my idea to help everyone who goes into a doctors surgery with an addiction or mental health problem to the chief executives of two of the largest charities in Britain and they were very interested.
On Tuesday I got up at the crack of dawn to attend a Conservative Group for Europe breakfast meeting. I hate getting up early but as openly pro-European Tories have been thin on ground since the Brexit vote I had to set my alarm. Alas most of the men there were not my type so I sat playing with my phone. I was then cheering various Celebrating the Union speeches in the main hall (ie England Scotland Northern Ireland and Wales) – a union which seems to be remaining intact, despite the Brexit vote, as the Scottish cannot afford to leave.
There was then the photo with my local Conservative Association where there were some rather attractive men. Obviously I gave them my business card saying “we must campaign together.”
My final event of the night was a Conservative Friends of Bangladesh reception which required a slightly sexier outfit. I have never been to Bangladesh and my knowledge of the country is purely based on what I have seen on the BBC news but I am very interested in getting to know some more Bangladeshi Tories. My local Conservative Association has strong links to the Bangladeshi community so I made sure I appeared in all the photos. There was a rather attractive mixed race man at the Bangladeshi event who despite the fact that he was 20 years younger than me I managed to engage in conversation. I am sure I am not the only cougar at the Conference.
The final day was the troop rousing speech by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives “A Country that works for everyone.” This was the busiest day of the Conference as many members come on a one day pass and I had therefore held back my most flattering outfit. The Prime Minister was wearing a rather sexy crimson dress and said the biggest challenge of the conference was whether the colourful Boris Johnson would “stay on message for four days.” The conference ended at one o clock but I had not booked my train until early evening in case I bumped into a likely husband and wanted to meet him for lunch. Alas I didn’t find a husband, but after four days of high octane excitement, decided I want to stand as an MP. If I became an MP my past is so colourful that Boris would look bland.