The Blue Light project is Alcohol Concern’s national initiative to develop alternative approaches and care pathways for treatment resistant drinkers who place a burden on public services. It is supported by Public Health England and 23 local authorities across the country.

The perception exists that if a problem drinker does not want to change, nothing can be done. This is untrue and has not been true since the early 1980s.

However, recent tragedies show that this belief is still prevalent. In 2011 a man was murdered by his former wife in Rochdale. For decades, he had subjected her to abuse and the homicide was the result. The subsequent review described the man as having a “chronic addiction to alcohol,” and went on to say that: “Appropriate referrals were made to addiction and medical services. He had a stubborn resistance to engaging with them, preferring it seems to continue his drinking unabated whilst deliberately avoiding medication. On occasions he refused permission for referrals. Services cannot be effective unless the client wants to change…”

This group of drinkers places a huge burden on public services and is a key contributor to a range of issues from emergency hospital admissions and readmissions to crime and disorder. In an average area high risk treatment resistant drinkers number at least 450 and will cost public services a minimum £12.5 million per annum.

The project challenges the traditional approach and radically changes the working agenda by showing that there are positive strategies that can be used with this client group.

Drawing on both motivational and harm reduction approaches it provides non-specialist and specialist workers with tools they can use and pathways they can follow which help to manage the risk and directly reduce associated problems such as domestic abuse, fire deaths and health problems.

The project has delivered:
• Tools and frameworks for understanding why clients may not engage
• Risk assessment tools which are appropriate for drinkers
• Harm reduction techniques and sentences workers can use
• Advice on crucial nutritional approaches which can reduce alcohol related harm
• Questions to help non-clinicians identify potential serious health problems and deliver enhanced personalised education
• Management frameworks
• Guidance on legal frameworks
• Training materials to disseminate the techniques.

Each of the tools has drawn on a national and international evidence base and has been peer reviewed both by workers at a local level and clinicians within NHS England and Public Health England. The development of this material has been enthusiastically received with both non-specialist and specialist workers keen to join workshops and review material.

Above all it offers a fundamental positive message that change is possible. Research shows that these clients are not as unmotivated clients as they seem. At least 40% of higher risk and dependent drinking clients will try and change each year. The blue light project provides the tools for building on this.

You can access the Blue Light manual here.