Midlothian mum’s push to improve addiction care

“We don’t need money – we need people to listen – common sense and lived experience is what’s needed, and we’ll change the world by doing this”

Friday 5th July 2019

In 2017, 934 Scots died as a result of drugs and it’s predicted the next round of statistics will show a ‘significant increase’.

#BehindTheNumbers is the organisation’s latest campaign – a response to the drugs deaths statistics and a call for recognition of the Scots at high risk of serious harm and death from drugs and alcohol, and their families working to keep them alive ‘against the odds’.

Sandra is one of the first women to share her story.

A mother who supported her daughter through drug addiction for several years, she has been instrumental in improving support services in Midlothian and now runs a family support group.

“The services were horrendous in Midlothian – non-existent. The building services were housed in wasn’t fit for purpose, they were often short staffed, always with people off sick. Staff were under so much pressure, so it was a revolving door of staff going off on leave,” Sandra tells heathandcare.scot.

Exclusion from their loved ones’ care and support is one of the threads running through many of the experiences that prompted the #BehindTheNumbers campaign.

Sandra was once told she couldn’t accompany her daughter to an appointment because there were not enough chairs in the waiting area to accommodate her.

In an era of austerity, much of the health and social care sector is crying out for more funding.

But Sandra says “common sense, lived-experience and compassion” are more important.

“Once I started to shout from the rooftops about how terrible the services were and no one was listening to me,” says Sandra, “I got in touch with Scottish Families and Aileen Campbell who was health minister at the time, and said, this has to change.

“Everyone’s answer was about resources and cuts but that’s when I got angry – this wasn’t about money – it’s about common sense and lived experience and people listening to what is required.

“The addiction services manager in Midlothian, Tracey Clusker, was absolutely amazing and on the same page has me – she has so much compassion and a person-centred approach to everything and everyone with an addiction issue in Midlothian.

“I called a meeting with her and she listened to my story and my daughter’s story, and she was horrified.

“She promised to work with me and change the services together. She offered me a room for the family support group in the building so my family support group that I facilitate in Midlothian is under the NHS umbrella – there isn’t another like that under the NHS umbrella.

“I applied to the Corra Foundation through Scottish Families for funding for furniture to make this lovely wee room. I created a space and made it lovely and inviting, because when a family goes to a family support group, especially at the beginning, there’s a lot of tears and upset.

“If you’re sitting in a cold, uncomfy room trying to comfort family members – what the room is like isn’t the main thing but it’s a big part of our recovery – to feel comfortable in a room with like-minded people, to understand what is actually going on.

“Families don’t understand addiction at first, why their loved ones are using – so I created this room and that changed the dynamics right away.

“We don’t need money – we need people to listen – common sense and lived experience is what’s needed, and we’ll change the world by doing this.”

A weekly drop-in session for families and their loved ones struggling with addiction now runs in Midlothian. Prescriptions can be organised on the same day, avoiding a 12 to 18 week or a need for clean drug samples to be submitted.

“You walk in and are not asked about use and clean drug samples - everything has just changed. Tracey refers family members to the support group and GPs in Midlothian are doing the same. Instead of prescribing sleeping tablets and anti-depressants to parents of people with addiction, they can refer them to the support group.

“What people need is a family support group with like-minded people to help them. If this continues we’re going to need the Usher Hall in Edinburgh for a family support group because this really is working.

“There’s still a lot of work to do that I’m fired up for – I want to have a meeting with GPs in Midlothian and the police.”

 “We will love our loved ones better because that’s what it’s about – working with services, with the family support group and the alcohol and drug partnership.

“The whole of Midlothian is getting involved – we’ve all joined hands. There’s nobody who doesn’t know about it and the changes are going to be phenomenal. It’s a miracle what’s happened.”

We’re going to end up saving lives. We have to get drugs deaths reduced – in two years’ time following this model, we will get the drug figures for Midlothian and we can show what’s changing. I’ve no doubt about it.”


The short film telling Sandra’s story is available here, along with more information on the #BehindTheNumbers campaign.

Pictured: Sandra Holmes at the launch of the #BehindTheNumbers campaign