Getting NHS nurses to dish out heroin to addicts is utterly deplorable – and morally bankrupt

By Graham Grant

CONSIDER the current parlous state of our treasured heath service, the one the SNP assured us would always be safe in its hands.

Staffing shortages are now so severe that hospitals have launched DIY schemes – asking families to help care for relatives.

And yet NHS bosses have decided that now is the time to recruit nurses for a specialist clinic where addicts inject themselves with heroin.

So while you’re forced to wash, dress and feed your loved ones during their hospital stay, elsewhere nurses will be facilitating the consumption of a Class A drug, bought for ‘patients’ with taxpayers’ money.

The Heroin-Assisted Treatment (HAT) centre will hand out medical-grade heroin to those who have repeatedly failed to kick their habit using more conventional means, such as methadone use.

It will be a short stroll from Glasgow city centre, near a nursery and a busy supermarket, and not surprisingly local traders and residents in the Gallowgate area are concerned that drug-users, and pushers, will congregate in the surrounding streets.

Some of the most vocal champions of the initiative are unlikely to share these anxieties, not least because they don’t live anywhere near the heroin clinic, and will smugly dismiss the objections as nimbyism (at least privately).

Addicts will report twice a day to the HAT centre, and won’t be automatically disqualified if they turn up already under the influence of drugs, though we’re assured they will be subject to testing to ensure they’re capable of withstanding another ‘fix’.

In the sanctuary of the HAT clinic, under medical supervision, they can be sure of getting a ‘pure’ product; supporters say it will also help to cut the number of syringes littering the streets, which create a public health hazard.

Patients will be given an appointment – it’s not possible simply to walk in off the street – and shown into an injecting booth, where they will be supervised by a nurse who will draw the agreed dose into a syringe.

In most cases the addict will inject themselves, with psychologists and occupational therapists on hand to offer support. All in all, it sounds like the sort of environment that addicts, normally banished to alleyways and squats, must dream of.

There is no guarantee, of course, that these addicts won’t remain as clientele of dealers who are not state-approved; and in between their visits to the clinic, if they are capable of attending – a big variable given their chaotic lifestyles – they may be compelled to obtain their own supplies.

The facilities are well-established in Germany; in Dusseldorf, addicts queue for their fix: many of them have been hooked for more than 20 years, and there’s scant evidence of a decline in the number of users.

In the UK, Durham County Council tried out the idea in 2013, but was unable to judge whether it had been a success because the numbers involved were too small; since then, it has concentrated instead on the ‘promotion of community-based support, with less emphasis on clinical prescribing’.

You won’t hear much about this kind of abortive pilot from the NHS, as it tries to devise new ideas to curb the increasing number of drug deaths, now at record levels: Scotland has the highest rate of drugs fatalities of any EU country, with 934 deaths in 2017, including three children under 14.

That’s because for those who trumpet the benefits of this state-financed haven for the drug-addicted, a belief in the legitimacy of the idea is a matter of almost cult-like devotion, and no criticism is brooked.

The original plan, still backed by the SNP, was for a ‘shooting gallery’ where addicts could bring in their own heroin, but it was ruled unlawful by Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC.

The revised scheme now getting under way is governed by the same twisted logic: the goal is to save someone’s life by perpetuating their addiction, and necessarily entails condoning the idea that it is acceptable for them to continue their highly destructive behaviour.

It’s an obscene comfort blanket, offered with the best of intentions, by experts in thrall to a liberal ideology that has also taken over large swathes of the law enforcement establishment, determined to see drug abuse as a health and not a justice issue.

The same perverse thinking has compelled ministers to investigate treating sex crimes as a health issue, by taking into account the troubled upbringings of the offenders: a proposal that presumably wasn’t focus-grouped with rape victims.

The absence of innovative thinking at the highest levels of government has been accompanied by a gradual surrender on the part of the police, who now dish out meaningless warning to people caught with cannabis.

There is no official recognition of the fact that this softer approach, sending out a signal that it’s effectively a safe drug to take despite growing evidence of its links to mental illness, is likely to worsen cannabis abuse – a warning given back in 2017 by United Nations drugs consultant Dr Ian Oliver.

Professor Neil McKeganey, a leading drugs misuse expert, has warned that the number of drug-users judged as appropriate for the HAT clinic may ‘steadily increase in the same way methadone prescriptions have increased’, and that ‘we will end up with tens of thousands of addicts being prescribed free heroin on the NHS’.

It is a justified fear: after all, the SNP came to power with grand plans to prioritise ‘cold turkey’ treatments over the prescription of methadone, but spending on the heroin substitute actually increased.

The abdication of moral responsibility to these wretched individuals is immense, but is also an inevitable facet of any system that believes addicts should be allowed to look after their own children, without the risk of social workers stepping in to take them into care.

All of this comes at a time when health chiefs in Glasgow are facing serious questions over the death of a ten-year-old boy at the £1billion Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in December, after contracting a bug linked to pigeon droppings.

And yet the same board, in partnership with the local authority, is diverting desperately needed resources to a city centre shelter for drug addicts.

The endgame of this process is the complete decriminalisation of cannabis possession (though arguably this has already begun), eventually paving the way for an even softer stance on harder drugs.

It’s now a familiar rite of passage for former government ministers to speak out in favour of legalisation – once they’ve left office.

This is because they know all too well that the voters won’t wear it: they want to reduce the drug-related death toll, but they utterly deplore incremental liberalisation of the drug laws.

The heroin clinic backed by the SNP is doubtless the product of misguided compassion, but it also brings us closer to a nightmarish society which has abandoned all sense of moral perspective.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on March 26, 2019.


Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Columns on MailPlus

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Graham Grant.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Columns on MailPlus