The Government has just (22 May 2023) published the targets for its drug strategy. The National Combating Drugs Outcomes Framework Supporting metrics and technical guidance provides a single set of metrics to measure national and local progress and help delivery partners structure and scrutinise their work. The guidance makes it clear that all relevant partners, including local authorities, the NHS, police, probation and prisons, should contribute to – and are jointly accountable for – all outcomes and elements of the strategy.
The structure of the framework
The framework sets our three strategic outcomes of reducing drug use, reducing drug-related crime, and reducing drug-related deaths and harm. The strategy aims to deliver them through the straightforward intermediate outcomes of reducing drug supply, increasing engagement in treatment and improving recovery outcomes.
The guidance outlines a set of additional 22 supporting measures to monitor progress towards the outcomes, with two key aims:
- more timely, interim, and/or proxy measures, which can provide information about direction of travel towards the strategic and intermediate outcomes
- a wider picture of the system allowing us to monitor the health of the whole system and to see unexpected trends or provide early warning
The supporting measures are summarised in the infographic which I have reproduced below (you can find it on page 6 of the guidance).
Local NDTMS metrics
In addition to the overall metrics shown above that will be used for monitoring the overall performance of the strategy nationally and locally across-central Government, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) will be monitoring the treatment and recovery system both nationally and locally in greater detail with the additional outcomes metrics outlined in the infographic reproduced below. These metrics are also important for use by Combating Drugs Partnership (CDPs) to monitor local treatment and recovery systems and will be included in “local-facing” reports produced by OHID.
CDPs will be glad to know that the outcome measures included are all based on data sources that are already collected and the Government is not currently asking partnership areas to return any new data. Readers will be pleased to know that, where available, the metrics will be monitored by protected characteristics.
Detailed supporting metrics
The guidance provides technical details about each of the different metrics, including the limitations of the different data sets used to measure specific outcomes. As you can see from the example I have chosen below (relating to the objective of reducing drug-related crime), some of the data sources have quite considerable limitations, although it is good to see these honestly acknowledged. The guidance does also include a commitment to improving data sources including data linking to gain insight into drug use among different cohorts via the Better Outcomes through Linked Data (BOLD) initiative. You can find full details of the planned data development areas on page 36 of the guidance.
It will be interesting to see whether the outcomes framework drives activity, especially when delivery is the responsibility of a range of different agencies. However, if the drug strategy and associated new funding can drive up the numbers of people in treatment, address unmet need and achieve, for instance, an increase in the number of people accessing treatment via community sentences, this can only be a good thing. The focus on increasing uptake of residential rehabilitation after so many years of neglect is also to be welcomed.
It is heartening to see so much emphasis on alcohol in the strategy, setting a number of distinctive targets. This approach mitigates, to an extent, disappointment at the long overdue national alcohol strategy (the most recent edition is now 11 years old).
We must now wait and see how much progress we are able to make against these targets.