Community substance misuse services during a pandemic – how East Kent have adapted
Friday 29 May 2020

Like all of us, Forward’s East Kent drug and alcohol service has had to adapt how it works, in response to the pandemic.

While face-to-face contact has been reduced where possible to minimise the risk of spread of infection, the team has stopped at nothing to deliver services and support service users. The majority of interventions and consultations are now held over the phone or by digital means, such as WhatsApp and Zoom.

The team also now sends out weekly text messages to clients with updates and advice on how to stay safe. We have identified all opiate substitute therapy (OST) clients without a contact number, and have supplied them with their own mobile phone so that they can stay in touch with their key workers. Meanwhile, our dedicated prescription delivery team has been travelling all over East Kent, delivering prescriptions to pharmacies to ensure clients have their medication on time.

All our physical hub buildings – in Ashford, Dover, Sittingbourne, and Margate – have remained open to deliver essential provision – a needle exchange service and giving out Naxolone kits (Naloxone is a medication that can save lives by reversing the reduced breathing rate caused by an opioid overdose). Where we do not have a physical building, these services continue to be delivered remotely.

In March, Canterbury Council secured the city’s Travelodge for three months to ensure all rough sleepers in the area were protected. Forward’s Laura Killeen and Jamie Reeve – plus their colleagues from our partners at the Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) team – worked around the clock to engage with the homeless population of Canterbury to get them a bed through this scheme.

Laura, Jamie and the RSI team managed to secure housing for 35 rough sleepers in one weekend, which was amazing and had a real impact on reducing the risk that this vulnerable population face during such an extreme public health crisis. Since then, members of the RSI team have been supervising at the hotel. Forward staff were on site at all times in the initial 24-hour period, and continue to check in regularly. The Forward Canterbury team has been coordinating with local pharmacies to deliver daily prescriptions of Opiate Substitute Therapy (OST) in order to prevent service users from leaving the hotel and to reduce the chances of an overdose.

The entire East Kent team has also been keeping clients in touch through Forward Connect, Forward’s nationwide network of current and former service users who help one another in their recovery and rehabilitation. Forward Connect is using apps to host online support meetings and share tips on maintaining recovery (see ‘Digital innovations during the pandemic’).

We’re incredibly lucky to have such dedicated and responsive staff, as well as access to technology that has made it possible to stay connected with our clients. Both staff and clients have given very positive feedback on the new methods of service delivery, which have proven particularly helpful for those who have childcare issues or who incur travel costs by attending the hubs – so this has all been great learning for the future!

By Paul Woodford, Regional Manager, East Kent

To find out more about our East Kent service, head to: www.eastkentdrugandalcohol.org.uk.