The Scottish Government is concerned at the decision that Network Rail has taken. The stance is contrary to the ambitions of our road to recovery drug strategy, which seeks to provide support and services to those who are most at risk from addictions, and it risks further stigmatisation of those who rely on needle exchange services across Scotland.
The Glasgow Central station needle exchange is one of the busiest in Scotland. It provides about 1,000 transactions per month to meet a significant public health need that was identified in the 2016 Glasgow public health needs assessment. Removing the service will not only displace but, potentially, exacerbate problem drug use in the area.
The Minister for Transport and the Islands has spoken to the managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, who has agreed, in light of the concerns, to look again at Network Rail’s decision.
Network Rail’s decision has caused a great deal of anxiety. The programme was set up in 2016 following a spike in HIV cases in Glasgow. It is used widely by 2,000 drug users and it has issued more than 40,000 clean needle kits. It is very much needed and, because of the facility’s location in Central station, it can have opening hours from 7 in the morning through to midnight.
The decision is damaging and has to be reversed as soon as possible. I note what the minister said and I ask the Government to take the lead in working with the various partner organisations—the health and social care partnership, Glasgow City Council and the national health service—to press the case strongly with Network Rail to reverse the decision immediately.
I largely share the concerns that James Kelly articulated. As I said in my original answer, the Minister for Transport and the Islands has spoken to the ScotRail Alliance, which has agreed to look again at the decision in light of the very real concerns, the public health need, the fact that there has been a spike in HIV cases in the city and the fact that the need was one of those that were identified in the 2016 Glasgow public health needs assessment.
As I said in my original answer, the decision risks displacing and exacerbating the problem in the city centre.
James Kelly is right to acknowledge that the centre in question is very busy. It is centrally located and it provides an important public service. Discussions are on-going and, where we can ensure that there is discussion, we will do what we can. We will work with partners that have an interest in the matter. As I said, this is a cross-portfolio matter, and my colleague Humza Yousaf has engaged with Network Rail on the issue. We will keep Mr Kelly informed.
In announcing my intention to refresh the Scottish drugs strategy, I emphasised the importance of viewing and treating substance misuse through a public health lens. Scotland’s drug problem is changing, and services need to adapt to meet the needs of those who are most at risk. We know that they face complex and wide-ranging social and medical issues. A key aspect of the strategy will be to consider how we can encourage those who are most at risk to engage with services and to look at how we can keep them there as a means of promoting the protective factors that are associated with being in treatment.
I will add something that relates to James Kelly’s question. The issue needs to be seen in the broadest possible context. It cannot be about just health professionals and those who are at the front line; it has to be seen across many disciplines and professions. When we refresh the strategy, my hope and intention is that we will engage as thoroughly and widely as we possibly can to ensure that we get the right strategy in place to adapt to and cope with the changing requirements across the country.
The needle exchange programme is an excellent service in an excellent location. We know that community safety and harm reduction are inextricably linked. The service users must be supported, not displaced, as the minister said.
The community responsibility is largely discharged by the NHS, but what role is there for the Scottish Government? Has the Scottish Government assessed whether there are sufficient and robust arrangements elsewhere in the country to avoid a repetition of such an incident?
I understand from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde that discussions were on-going so, from its perspective, there was never at any point a need to escalate the issue to the Scottish Government. As I said in response to James Kelly, my colleague Humza Yousaf has engaged with the ScotRail Alliance, which will ensure that Network Rail’s decision is looked at again in light of the concerns that have been raised.
If we can press in other areas to ensure that what has happened does not happen again, we will take forward conversations where that is appropriate. I have certainly expressed my concern about the decision, which could exacerbate quite a significant problem for Glasgow. We—the different partners, such as the health board and others—need to work together across the different disciplines to get something in place and to ensure that discussions are always as open and considered as they possibly can be.
I understand that the Simon Community has agreed to allocate two members of staff to operate a backpacking exchange outside Glasgow Central station from 6.30 to 9.30 for the next two weeks. That is a temporary measure. The two-week period is a stopgap to give time to see whether the decision is reconsidered or for an alternative service to be established.
We will continue to keep members updated as things develop and we will ensure that, given that the situation is dynamic, those who have an interest are furnished with the appropriate information.
A survey of 1,000 drug addicts in Scotland revealed that fewer than 5 per cent of them wanted help with injecting safely and that the overwhelming majority wanted to become drug free. What action is the Scottish Government taking to help those addicts to achieve the goal of abstinence?
Adam Tomkins might be interested in the fact that we very recently hosted in his Glasgow region the first-ever gathering of our recovery communities. That brought together a number of groups from across Scotland, which were able to articulate the importance of recovery for them. That is an important plank of the road to recovery strategy, which will be refreshed.
At the end of this month, a recovery walk will take place in Dundee. If the member is interested in attending, I am sure that those involved would be glad to have the support and to have what they have achieved in trying to cope with their addiction recognised. We will keep the member informed of the strategy refresh.
There is a flourishing recovery community, of which we should all be proud. Its members have done enormously well to get to a position where they are not only able to cope with their addiction but able to help and support others through similar troubles.