Drug Addicts: Custody Suites

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 17th January 2017.

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Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 2:45 pm, 17th January 2017

2. Ms Bradshaw asked the Minister of Justice to outline what discussions she has had with the PSNI regarding the policies and procedures in place in custody suites to ensure the health needs of drug addicts are met, specifically in relation to overdosing and under-dosing. (AQO 919/16-21)

Photo of Claire Sugden Claire Sugden Independent

I have regular discussions with the Chief Constable on a range of strategic issues. However, the issue raised here — policies and procedures in custody suites — is an operational matter and has not, therefore, been discussed with the Chief Constable. The Member may wish to contact the PSNI directly.

A programme of rationalisation and upgrading of custody provision is under way across Northern Ireland, the goal being fewer, better-equipped suites with embedded support services, including healthcare. However, I have received a number of representations in relation to suite closures and processing delays, and I have undertaken to raise these matters with the Chief Constable. Future healthcare provision in custody will be informed by the findings of the custody health needs assessment that was undertaken recently by the PSNI in collaboration with the Public Health Agency.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Thank you, Minister, for your response. I was concerned when you mentioned processing delays, given that an awful lot of people who come into custody suites are suffering from mental health problems. Is there any instruction that you can give to the PSNI on how better to deal with mental health issues while people are being processed?

Photo of Claire Sugden Claire Sugden Independent

The Member raises a valid point. It emerged from my conversations with the Chief Constable that there is a need to understand the role of the Police Service in Northern Ireland better and to look at it in the context of 2017.

I understand the issues that the police face daily, and mental health is one. I do not think that any MLA would be surprised to learn that, at the weekend, police often spend a lot of time in A&Es, sitting with people who have mental health issues. That takes up two or three hours and ties up resources that they could be devoting elsewhere.

There needs to be a realistic conversation about the role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the wider context of public services, including social services and healthcare services. Again, not to sound too despondent, this was all work in progress. I hope that this work can continue under whoever may take the mantle, if it is not me.