Evaluation of the move to remote models of service delivery by drug and alcohol services in Leeds during the COVID-19 pandemic

Evaluation completed September 2022

What does the research mean for Local Authorities?

The knowledge produced by this research will provide an understanding of how drug and alcohol support services can be best configured in future, drawing on lessons learnt during COVID-19 about the relative benefits and disadvantages of remote delivery. This research will also highlight important lessons for effective remote delivery for support services, service providers and commissioners beyond drug and alcohol support. A range of experts locally and nationally have been involved in supporting the research process. 

What does the evaluation research mean for the Public?

This study will provide valuable findings for those who use drug and alcohol treatment services across the UK and internationally. Additionally, by includingunheardvoices via creative methods, this study provides representation of those with the potential to experience marginalisation within these communities.

How are the public involved in the evaluation?

The public has been involved throughout the project in several different ways. This includes a local service user consultation group who have helped to ensure we answer questions important to them and provide relevant insight when discussing findings and producing outputs. Additionally, throughout all PHIRST Connect projects the Public Involvement in Research group act as a critical friend on key elements of the research process. They have contributed at all stages of the Covid DASE project including being involved in data analysis and interpretation of findings and consideration of implications for future service design.  

Lay summary of research

The COVID-19 pandemic meant that there needed to be substantial changes to the delivery of drug and alcohol support services across Leeds.  This included stopping, or significantly reducing, face-to-face support services, and a move to remote delivery of key drug and support services. Remote service delivery means delivering services mostly over the phone or using technology such as video calls, smartphone apps, or instant messaging, rather than face-to-face.  Prior to Covid-19, face-to-face delivery had been the main way that service users engaged with drug and alcohol support services. 

Although there has been disruption to the usual way of delivering support services, there is some evidence that aspects of remote delivery have been experienced positively by some drug and alcohol support staff and some service users.

The aim of the study is to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the drug and alcohol services in Leeds, and the changes that staff and service users experienced, in order to come to an informed decision about how best to design services in the future.   

The study aims to answer the following, broad  research questions: 

  • how did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the delivery of the various drug and alcohol support services?  
  • how were any changes in drug and alcohol support service delivery experienced by those delivering those services and those in receipt of them?  
  • what impact, if any, did remote delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic have on outcomes for service users and were any groups of people particularly disadvantaged by the changes?  
  • what was the impact of remote delivery on the cost of delivering drug and alcohol support services, and what were the cost implications for service users?  

The research will be conducted by:

1. Looking at what has already been written about drug and alcohol support

2. Asking drug and alcohol support staff to fill in a timeline about their experiences, and take part in one-to-one interviews and group discussions

3. Group discussions, one-to-one interviews, and text messaging and email conversations with service users, plus creative case studies creation with staff who work with on-street sex workers

4. Comparing past information (data) with new data that describes outcomes for service users before and after COVID-19

5.Looking at what remote delivery would mean in terms of financial cost (health economics)

Local Authority/Partner(s)

Leeds City Council


PHIRST Connect Research Team

Nigel Lloyd
Dr Suzanne Bartington
Charis Bontoft
Dr Gavin Breslin
Dr Olujoke Fakoya
Imogen Freethy
Dr Jaime Garcia Iglesias
Dr Neil Howlett
Nigel Smeeton
Dr Adam P Wagner
Amander Wellings
Professor Katherine Brown

*All PHIRST Connect members input into every project