Chapter 4.6

Digital has continued to be highlighted in the development of a strategic evidence based response to the drug-deaths crisis. Both the barriers presented by data sharing and the opportunities for inclusion, innovation and the availability of information are prominent issues.

Digital is a fundamental part of modern life. Digital inclusion should therefore be a key goal when working with people who use drugs.

What needs to change

Engagement with support networks has been shown to be a critical factor in the success of people’s long-term recoveries.

Every person should have access to the necessary technology to enhance their engagement and improve their connectivity to support networks and treatment services. Learning from the Digital Lifelines programme (50) can provide the foundations for this measure.

Action 117. The Scottish Government should commit to providing sustainable funding to assist individuals in connecting digitally with those who care about them and the services that support them.

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of digital innovation and the speed at which innovation can be tested and implemented to improve care in a public health emergency. The Scottish Government and its partners should embrace smart efficient solutions to persistent challenges, utilising digital where it can provide additional value.

The commitment to digital innovation needs to be focused on the needs of individuals and should embed the Scottish Approach to Service Design (51). It should build on the learning of the Digital Lifelines project on how best to engage people who use drugs and use tools such as Civtech® (52) (a solution-focused Scottish Government programme that works with the statutory, private and third sectors) to foster innovation.

Action 118. The Scottish Government and wider local leadership should embrace digital innovation, finding ways to improve how people access health, care and support at the point of need.

Action 119. The Scottish Government should explore the conclusions of the Overdose Detection and Responder Alert Technologies (ODART) programme, supporting innovation that has been shown to improve individuals’ experiences.

Action 120. The Scottish Government should fund a Civtech round, with partners from across the drug and alcohol sector and wider public service organisations invited to sponsor challenges. Challenges should be targeted to resolve persistent long-term barriers.

Data-sharing has been a challenge for almost every project we have funded, leading to unnecessary delays and impacts on service delivery. Projects have also highlighted the number of records they need to engage with for each individual, often duplicating information and forcing individuals to relive their trauma multiple times.

A more coordinated data-linkage system would improve the shared understanding of each patient. It would support our recommendations around “no wrong door” and holistic treatment, ultimately improving individuals’ experiences and the impact of their treatment.

If we are to turn the tide of drug-related deaths, data sharing must cease to be a barrier to the effective delivery of services. Partners must work more effectively together. They must develop detailed information-sharing agreements to support the smooth transition of information around individuals’ cases and facilitate the timely provision of services.

Action 121. The Scottish Government should work with the Information Commissioners Office to provide a guidance note, or an open letter, assuring services that data can be shared between statutory and third-sector partners without consequences under the General Data Protection Regulation.

Action 122. All partners urgently need to work to formalise inter-agency data-sharing relationships to ensure equality of access to data across services. This must also extend to third-sector partners.

Action 123. The Scottish Government should run a project to develop a single record that follows an individual throughout their treatment and recovery journey, improving data linkage across the system and enabling a shared understanding of an individual’s history, needs and care package. This record can then be shared to inform interactions with the criminal justice system or other support services.

The Audit Scotland 2022 update criticised the approach to tackling drug-related deaths as lacking transparency. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of easily available real-time information. This in turn has shifted expectations of what data should be published.

We were told that information on drug-related deaths and the National Mission should be available on one platform to improve transparency. This would act as a central landing page that promotes the work of partners. It should ensure tailored information is readily available for individuals who use drugs, family members and professionals on topics that matter to them.

Information on referral pathways to support individuals to access treatment should feature on the platform. We would also recommend that the platform goes beyond drug dependency to include support for other dependence issues.

People need to be able to access information to help the person in front of them. This is not about everyone becoming drug workers or experts in the field; nor is it about sending a person needing help away to a website or another service. Instead, it is about providing resources to all front-facing workers to provide the information people need.

Data must be relevant, easy to understand and be provided in a timely and easily accessible manner. Given the range of partners who produce data, this information could not be hosted on one platform. The single platform nevertheless could act as a signpost, highlighting available data on drugs and drug-related deaths and where it can be accessed.

The platform should also be used to consolidate various service directories to provide a single point of truth for people looking to refer an individual to services.

Action 124. The Scottish Government, in partnership with people with lived and living experience, families and the wider sector, should develop a single platform to ensure that information is available for the people who need it when they need it.