Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) on securing this important debate. In Glasgow city centre, there are around 500 people who inject drugs on a regular basis. Someone who comes to Glasgow will probably not see it, but for many of my constituents it is a huge issue.
Before I was elected in 2007, the issue of discarded needles was raised by a resident, who pointed me to a bin in a children’s play park. I have an enduring horror that sooner or later a child will get pricked by a contaminated needle, which is a daily hazard for our council cleansing staff. No one should have to live with that risk.
The issue has never gone away, but has simply moved around. Earlier tonight, a constituent, Andy Rae, told me that he had come home to find two contaminated needles on his doorstep. As the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) said, the problem is already there. It is on my office doorstep too.
A constituent wrote to me over the weekend to say:
“In the 18 months that I have lived here there have been countless times that I’ve seen people injecting drugs in the bin area, doorways, and carpark…They leave behind their needles, bloody wipes, spoons, and bottles all over the area, strewn all over the ground/grass/hedges, as well as urine, vomit and blood on the ground…This is a nice, quiet, residential area, home to people both young and old, families with children, students, people taking their dogs out, and is also in very close proximity to the children’s play park directly across the road.”
Another constituent, who I spoke to on Monday, told me about witnessing prostitution in bin shelters and groups of people taking drugs under the stairs.
I regularly walk around that part of my constituency, reporting needles as I find them. After my surgery on Friday, I saw among the usual places a young woman injecting herself behind a derelict building. There is no dignity for that woman—only desperation. That is the reality of life for intravenous drug users in Glasgow, and of the impact of their behaviour on residents. It is deeply damaging for everyone involved. Each of those people injecting drugs is someone’s child, is loved by somebody, and we owe it to them to find a better way.
There has been no means of dealing with the situation. It is imperative that we do something different. The Glasgow health and social care partnership has concluded that the only way to deal with public injecting is to provide a safe, managed space for people to inject. By doing so, we can also respond to the concerns of residents and businesses and meet the needs of a very vulnerable and marginalised population who do not engage in services. The partnership has a clear and well thought through proposal for a drug consumption room. I commend its report, “Taking away the chaos”; if the Minister has not already read it, I urge her to look at the evidence that it has gathered.
I pay particular tribute to Saket Priyadarshi for his work, to Susanne Miller of Glasgow City Council for her commitment, and to people like Kirsten Horsburgh of the Scottish Drugs Forum for their advocacy of this important project. The health and social care partnership has done significant work on establishing needs and protocols on how it would work, on listening to a range of health professionals as well as to those who use drugs, and on finding a means of funding the project. It would be more than just a room; it would be a service—a bespoke service staffed by health professionals, with a wrap-around service to help people to reduce their drug use and stabilise their lives. There would be opportunities for people not currently accessing health services to do so, and for people to get assistance to rebuild their lives. The proposed Glasgow model is all about engaging with drug users to promote treatment, rehabilitation and social integration, as well as providing harm reduction services.
The Minister must recognise that not taking action, but rather just doing what we have already done, comes at a cost that has manifested itself in the treatment for the latest HIV and hepatitis C outbreak in Glasgow. Inaction also comes at the cost of emergency admissions to hospital. As the report notes:
“Over the last five years, the Scottish Ambulance Service has recorded an annual average of 232 ambulance attendances at suspected overdoses”
just in Glasgow. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) mentioned the Australian example, which shows how such costs could be saved.
There is a risk to council staff and housing association staff from clearing up needles—sometimes in their hundreds—on sites. As soon as those needles are cleared, they come back again and again. There is also a human cost—the cost of lives written off and wasted. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) cited some of the figures, including the 867 drug deaths in Scotland in 2016 alone. We cannot put a price on that. For every person lost to addiction a family is bereft.
Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control supports drug consumption rooms. I have listened carefully to people who have lost family members, and they made it clear that drug consumption rooms would be a positive intervention. At the very least, their loved one would not risk dying alone in a filthy lane. Instead, they would be in a place of safety, supervised by medical professionals. As hon. Members have mentioned, there has been not one single death in any drug consumption room anywhere.
Our difficulty in Glasgow is that the project cannot go ahead without the permission of the UK Government, unlike in Ireland, where the Ana Liffey project and the then Minister—now Senator—Aodhán Ó Ríordáin changed the law to allow it. The Lord Advocate cannot pursue the matter. An exemption from the Home Office has been refused. I have a cross-party letter signed by the majority of MPs in Scotland, requesting leave for the pilot to go ahead. If it does not work, fine, but at least let us try. The status quo is not acceptable.
I invite the Minister to come to my constituency in Glasgow and see how people are living. She could then see whether she would like to put up with what my constituents put up with every day, or whether she would find it acceptable for somebody she cared about to drop their trousers and inject heroin into their groin in a manky back court surrounded by excrement and contaminated needles.
I will end with words quoted in the health report from someone in recovery:
“You need to think about it differently. That’s where I think safe injecting routes and injecting heroin…you take away the chaos. Then you have a chance to work on the attitude.”