Aberdeen proposes community-centred approach for alcohol and drug services

New research conducted by a team of public health experts from the Aberdeen Centre for Health Data Science has proposed a new approach for drug and alcohol services with users being actively involved in development.

The report was published in the journal PLoS Global Public Health and focuses on the importance of giving service users a voice. The team worked alongside partners in research organisations, services and advocacy groups in South Africa to establish new ways to improve engagement and dialogue in public services, especially for drug and alcohol programmes.

The initial phase of the project highlighted drugs and alcohol as a key priority in rural South Africa, working with and for rural communities to underline value of involving users in health improvement services.

Dr Lucia D’Ambruoso and her team led an initiative to create spaces for health systems and people to join together, produce research evidence and act on this evidence in order to learn to address common health concerns.

Sharing her belief that this approach would benefit health systems all over the world, including the NHS, Dr D’Ambruoso said: “Whilst this project is based on work with rural communities in South Africa, alcohol and drugs serious present public health problems to our own communities and Health Service in Scotland.  The lessons that we have learned from our community-led approach in South Africa are also very relevant here at home.”

She added: “What is critical, and often missing, is connecting community voice to the authorities to support the establishment of virtuous cycles of ‘community voice’ and ‘state response’. Marginalised community voices seldon feature in public services.” However, she said, in this project, it was possible “to create spaces and processes connecting stakeholders to build dialogue, evidence, action, and learning for cooperative action on health.”

The project will last eight years and is being funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Wellcome Trust and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). They will look at how to enhance retainment and engagement.

Dr D’Ambruoso is in discussions within the NHS with a view to launch new participatory approaches as part of strategic plans and priorities on substance use, community empowerment and learning health systems in NHS Grampian.