City Health 2012 is undoubtedly the most ambitious—and in many ways the most important event—the London Drug and Alcohol Policy Forum has hosted in the twenty years of its existence.
We have hosted many events in that time on issues ranging from the needs of young people in terms of drug services, to helping improve effective enforcement to work for those who have been through problems with alcohol or drugs get back into employment and stable housing. In all the events I have been involved in there has been recognition of the fact that drug and alcohol problems do not occur in isolation, that multi-agency responses are needed to achieve maximum gain, and that we need to consider the broader social environment.
However, a number of factors have often made it difficult for drugs and alcohol work to be considered and delivered in the broader health context, let alone the other areas of social policy. It has proved very difficult to break out of our silos.
Yet as we are learning at City Health 2012, there are shining examples of success stories across the globe, from tackling alcohol related problems in Stockholm, implementation of harm reduction policies on the ground in Vancouver, through to the urban renewal projects taking places in cities such as Bogota and Medellin.
In England we are now looking forward to a new era of public health delivery—one where local authorities are key players, and where a lot of the old silos will fall away. There is a great opportunity to be seized to ensure that delivery works for individuals and local communities, and that their range of needs are considered in total, not in narrow categories. Of course this is taking place against a backdrop of massive restructuring and pressure on financial resources—but there are great prizes to be won if we can meet these challenges successfully.
The London Drug and Alcohol Policy Forum has always been about promoting good practice and is supportive of innovation. Many of the challenges around health behaviours are to be found around the world and there is a tremendous amount of experience and wisdom in this hall which is as valid in application in London as in Europe, America, or Asia. At a challenging time when resources are harder to come by it is perhaps more important than ever that we listen and benefit from each other’s endeavours. The Forum, for its part will be working with our partners in London and beyond to support work around drugs and alcohol in the new context.
Hugh Morris is the chair of the London Drug and Alcohol Forum, based in and funded by the City of London Corporation.