Co-located Heroin Assisted Treatment within primary care: A preliminary analysis of the implications for healthcare access, cost, and treatment delivery in the UK

Hannah Poulter, Helen Moore, Danny Ahmed, Fleur Riley, Tammi Walker, Magdalena Harris

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The UK is experiencing its highest rate of drug related deaths in 25 years. Poor and inconsistent access to healthcare negatively impacts health outcomes for people who use drugs. Innovation in models of care which promote access and availability of physical treatment is fundamental. Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) is a treatment modality targeted at the most marginalised people who use drugs, at high risk of mortality and morbidity. The first service-provider initiated HAT service in the UK ran between October 2019 and November 2022 in Middlesbrough, England. The service was co-located within a specialist primary care facility offering acute healthcare treatment alongside injectable diamorphine.

Analysis of anonymised health records for healthcare costs (not including drug treatment) took place using descriptive statistics prior and during engagement with HAT, at both three (n=15) and six (n=12) months. Primary outcome measures were incidents of wound care, skin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs), overdose (OD) events, unplanned overnight stays in hospital, treatment engagement (general and within hospital care settings) and ambulance incidents. Secondary outcome measures were costs associated with these events.

A shift in healthcare access for participants during HAT engagement was observed. HAT service attendance appeared to support health promoting preventative care, and reduce reactive reliance on emergency healthcare systems. At three and six months, engagement for preventative wound care and treatment for SSTIs increased at the practice. Unplanned emergency healthcare interactions for ODs, overnight hospital stays, serious SSTIs, and ambulance incidents reduced, and there was an increase in treatment engagement (i.e. a reduction in appointments which were not engaged with). There was a decrease in treatment engagement in hospital settings. Changes in healthcare utilisation during HAT translated to a reduction in healthcare costs of 58% within six months compared to the same timeframe from the period directly prior to commencing HAT.

This exploratory study highlights the potential for innovative harm reduction interventions such as HAT, co-located with primary care services, to improve healthcare access and engagement for a high-risk population. Increased uptake of primary healthcare services translated to reductions in emergency healthcare use and associated costs. Although costs of HAT provision are substantial, the notable cost-savings in health care should be an important consideration in service implementation planning.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Early online date8 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2024


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