A SPECIALIST team which helps problem drinkers rebuild their lives has been warned it could be broken up.

Treatment for those battling alcohol dependency in County Durham is currently provided by the 32-strong Community Alcohol Service (CAS), part of the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust.

But the commissioners - Durham County Council - are expected to put the service out to tender.

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While the CAS team have been told the contract for alcohol services has been extended until the end of this year, staff have been warned of possible job losses.

The Royal College of Nursing in the region is seeking assurances that the county council review will not not lead to a cut in the number of skilled nurses working for the service.

In a leaked staff briefing, CAS head of service, Martin Armitage, told staff: “Depending on the outcome of the review and re-procurement exercise, there may well be a need for a further restructure of the service.

"Depending on the size of any new contract, there may be a need to reduce the size of the workforce, and this could lead to redundancies, although the trust would wish to avoid this wherever possible.”

But Mr Armitage stressed the trust “will be looking to win the new tender, either on our own or in partnership with other providers.”

A spokesman for the County Durham and Darlington Foundation NHS Trust said it is working with Durham County Council “to understand their requirements" for future services.

He said staff are being kept informed of potential changes “to ensure awareness and engagement and to provide an opportunity for feedback on how the services might be shaped going forward.”

Nick Whitton, Durham County Council’s head of commissioning for children and adults services, said the aim was to develop “something which is more focused on helping people recover while being efficient at the same time." 

An RCN spokesman said: “Whoever is the successful provider, we want assurances that the nursing team is not reduced, because demand for front-line care for this type of service is currently increasing, not decreasing, and it would be completely inappropriate to use the review process to introduce staffing cuts by the back door.”