The Government is turning to vocational training in its latest move to tackle the country's growing drug problem. A major review of the training of drug workers is being carried out in an attempt to improve the quality of help offered to users of street drugs.
The number of people seeking help for drug problems has doubled in the past 10 years. With hundreds of voluntary organisations involved in the rehabilitation and treatment of drug users, it is not known what proportion of staff are qualified for their jobs, or to what level.
In an attempt to clear the mist, a review of training requirements is being carried out in a joint initiative, led by the Home Office and supported by the Department of Health.
They will commission an outside organisation to look at the way workforce data is collected and make recommendations about what training is needed for the future in a move which could see colleges and private training providers playing a bigger role.
Government figures suggest that pound;1 invested in helping people with addiction can save society pound;9 by taking the strain off the criminal justice system and reducing the number of offences by users feeding their habit.
Despite the lack of data, the National Treatment Agency, the NHS organisation responsible for drug work, has set ambitious targets for training.
It says, by 2008, 75 per cent of non-professionally-trained staff should be at or working towards a level 3 (A-level) qualification, meeting national occupational standards which have already been drawn up for the wider health and social care sector.
With many of these staff having no prior qualifications, the NTA admits the target is ambitious.
Colin Bradbury, treatment delivery manager at the NTA, said: "The challenge and focus is now very much in ensuring that the workforce is sufficiently competent and has the skills to meet the requirements of the client group it serves. Everyone acknowledges that more work needs to be done in this area."
The NTA's targets also stipulate that 60 per cent of professionally-trained staff should be undertaking professional development and 90 per cent of managers should be doing, or have done, management training.
John Rogers, chief executive of Skills for Health, said: "We have come a long way in the past three years. We have national occupational standards.
The situation is less than perfect, in the sense that people are not able to put their fingers on the figures straight away, but we are working towards that."
Already, he says the size of the workforce has been increased to take account of the increasing number of users seeking help.
"We have increased the numbers but, now, the focus will be very much on quality and workforce development," he said.