CRIPPLED by increasing demand and staff shortages, the Isle of Wight's drug and alcohol service is to be outsourced.

The Isle of Wight NHS Trust, which currently runs the Island Recovery Integrated Service (IRIS), said transferring it to another provider was the best option for patients and staff.

IRIS had already stopped taking new referrals for alcohol treatment as it simply could not cope with the number of new referrals.

A statement posted on the website advised people who needed help with alcohol misuse to contact their GP.

A trust spokesperson said today (Thursday): "We have worked closely with the service commissioners since then to recruit staff and to seek external support in order to reopen the service as soon as possible.

"This has not been possible, and we have concluded it is in the best interests of patients and staff for the contract for the drug and alcohol service to be transferred to another service provider."

Dr Lesley Stevens, the trust's director of mental health services, said: “Increased pressure on our drug and alcohol services and problems with staffing the Isle of Wight service have led us to undertake a fundamental review of the service.

"We have concluded it is in the best interests of service users and staff who work in this very specialised area, for the service to be transferred to a specialist service provider, with the appropriate expertise and access to suitably qualified staff.

"We are working closely with the service commissioners to ensure a smooth transfer to a new service provider as quickly as possible.

"A further announcement will be made in due course."

UPDATED 13:45: Jay Nevett, chair of the UNISON health branch, said : "We are extremely disappointed that yet another NHS service is being outsourced by the trust.

"IRIS has a very committed and professional staff group and they have been under extreme pressure for a long time.

"Unfortunately the concerns they have frequently raised about the service have just not been listened to by managers.

"This is a very worrying development  for staff and for service users and UNISON will be working hard to support our members through this very stressful time."