HIV Outbreak

The recent report of 934 drug related deaths in Scotland in 2017 highlights a national disgrace which must act as a wake-up call. Back in the 1980s the world was introduced to ‘a big disease with a little name’, HIV. This forced us to reconsider our attitude towards drug consumption. Through advances in medical science and a change of behaviour, notably increased use of condoms and a reduction in sharing needles in the drug injecting community, we gained greater control and eventually slowed down the spread. It took us a few years to come to terms with the crisis facing us but during that time we nearly got it right. We nearly embraced needle exchanges and in some cases, like Glasgow, where we did, we greatly reduced the spread of HIV. In other cities such as New York and Edinburgh we didn’t and HIV spread like wildfire through the drug injecting community and beyond.

But over 30 years later the spread of HIV is once again increasing and yet the solution is already known. Safe Drug Consumption Rooms (SDCR) have been operating under various guises in the U.K. since the 1920s and the Rolleston Committee and after the 1971 misuse of drugs act and therefore more akin to the current legal restrictions, we had the harm reduction units on Merseyside which were primarily associated with Dr John Marks. These units recorded zero deaths, zero HIV, a drop in acquisitive crime of over 93% and a reduction in addiction of over 92%. (1)

Now we are closing needle exchanges, refusing licences for SDCRs and not surprisingly the consequence is that we have another burgeoning HIV epidemic. Last time, if we were to be extremely generous, we could blame ignorance. This time, we have no such excuse. The facts are written in the history books. The academic studies line the walls of libraries. The list of deaths are legion. This time we know what we must do and we have models that exist in other countries that we can draw upon. Those who pertain to have morals must ensure that this time, we get it right. The last time, too many grieving families lost loved ones and too many lives were blighted. SDCRs are paramount to halting the advance of HIV. And SDCRs are preferable to needle exchanges. All the issues that have made needle exchanges unpopular and led to closures are addressed by SDCRs. They don’t involve people carrying drugs to the rooms, those same people don’t leave carrying drugs and then consume it in the immediate vicinity. And we don’t have the detritus of used needles, foil wraps, bloodied wipes and vomit blighting the lanes and bin sheds of the vicinity. And if you are one of the few honest souls that are prepared to admit that you don’t care about the death of drug users then at least look at the financial argument. A pound spent on prevention, saves three being spent on health service treatment further down the line and seven on the criminal justice system. So whether it is moral or financial the argument for government funded SDCRs is a winner. The alternative is a dereliction of responsibility by the U.K. government in the face of a growing epidemic.

  1.  Drug Wars – Neil Woods and JS Rafaeli

https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/13034/ronnie-cowan-mp-we-already-know-drug-consumption-rooms-will-save-lives-ignorance-no

Picture courtesy of Carl Johan-Sveningsson

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Ferguson Marine

Ferguson Marine have already bid for work relating to the Type 31e Frigates and have also successfully won funding from the EU to produce the world’s first hydrogen-powered ferry. It’s clear that Inverclyde is producing some of the highest quality ships in the world. 

It therefore makes no sense that the UK Government would put additional obstacles in Ferguson Marine’s path when they are well placed to bid for a lucrative new defence contract that would sustain jobs, apprentices and investment in Inverclyde.

I have heard it argued that by allowing countries from across the globe to bid for UK work then the UK shipbuilders will be able to bid for work across the globe. However, this only works if an industry is already vibrant and the shipbuilding sector in the UK is still reinventing itself after years of neglect. It’s need nurtured before it can take on the world.

Surely a UK Government that genuinely cared about domestic shipbuilding would be trying to find an excuse to give Scottish yards the best possible chance of success rather than threatening a positive outcome.

The UK Government must back yards such as Ferguson Marine and ensure that taxpayers money is supporting employment in the UK, rather than subsidising their competition.

Gambling related harm

I welcome more action to both highlight and identify gambling related harm and the issues this can cause for individuals and their family members.

The Gambling Commission report indicates that Total Gross Gambling Yield is £13.9bn which should mean the industry provides £14m (0.1% of GGY) to GambleAware to support their work into research and treatment.

Alongside this, the report highlights there are 33,648 B2 (FOBT) machines in the UK which continue to allow players to lose up to £100 per spin. It’s time for the UK Government to implement the £2 maximum unit stake on FOBTs.

http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news-action-and-statistics/news/2018/Measuring-the-impact-of-gambling-related-harms.aspx

Appointment of a Recovery Champion

It’s a disgrace that a year on since the launch of the UK Government Drug Strategy the promise to appoint a Recovery Champion has not been fulfilled. Is it the case that the Home Office cannot find anyone suitably qualified for the position that agrees with their drugs policy sufficiently to take on this role?

The fact that the UK Government see the issue of drugs policy as a criminal justice one, rather than a public health issue, demonstrates their lack of empathy and understanding on how to support people with drug related harm.

Added to this, their failure to either assist with the creation of a medically surprised consumption room in Glasgow, or provide the Scottish Parliament to do so, is another example of their abject failure on this issue.

It’s time for the Home Office to finally make progress on supporting those with drug related harm and appoint a Recovery Champion sooner rather than later. For many this appointment can’t come soon enough.

Home Office – Appointment of a Recovery Champion – https://publicappointments.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/170911-Recovery-Champion-Candidate-Pack-FINAL.pdf

Medical cannabis

I welcome the announcement from the Chief Medical Officer for England that there is conclusive evidence of the therapeutic benefit of cannabis based medicinal products for certain medical conditions.  This is something I have argued with the Home Office about for some time, alongside other MPs from across the political divide.

The cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell have led the UK Government to a complete u-turn on their views on medical cannabis.  However, it should not have taken the pain and suffering of two young boys for them to realise they were on the wrong side of the argument.

As I recently said it is time that we reappraised our attitude to cannabis and moved forward on fact based strategy that does not harm society but benefits it.  I would now expect the U.K. government to move swiftly to legislate on the provision of medical cannabis under prescription.

 

DWP Rules over UC Payment After Death

Once again, we witness the callous nature of the Department for Work and Pensions which classes as person as dead from the beginning of their assessment period even if they die towards the end of that period.

This means that family members had to meet the cost of the housing rent for a period of three weeks as the Universal Credit payment was stopped from the beginning of the assessment period.  This is fundamentally wrong and highlights the cruel nature of the current system which is not fit for purpose.

The sooner the Scottish Parliament has the powers over social security the sooner we can build a system which has compassion and empathy at its core.  This is something which is clearly lacking from this UK Government and I will be writing to the Minister to ask they sort out this issue.

FOBT Losses

The amount of money lost on FOBTs since 2016 is staggering and further highlights why the maximum unit stake on these machines must be lowered to £2 as soon as possible.

The intervention of HM Treasury in delaying the stake reduction is deeply disappointing and frustrating.  It’s time they ditched their blocking tactics and allow the policy decision to be implemented.  

I was delighted to be re-elected as vice-chair of the All-party parliamentary group (APPG) and I will continue to campaign for further action to address gambling related harm.  I hope to secure a debate on the subject in the near future.

 

Plans to Delay Cut to FOBTs

The Treasury intend to stall the implementation of the £2 maximum unit stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) until April 2020. That is a full year longer than expected. The outcome of which will be that gambling related harm will continue to being inflicted on those the UK Government has previously stated they aim to help.

The Treasury’s argument is that they need to make up the shortfall in the revenue they stand to lose. I don’t think it’s beyond the combined financial wisdom of the entire Treasury to solve that conundrum before next November and include it in this year’s Finance Bill. They just need to find the will and take the required necessary actions to reduce gambling related harm.

 

Westminster Power Grab

The voting system at Westminster is quite straight forward. MPs either vote yes, no or abstain. Whichever gets the most votes from either yes or no wins. Given that the odds are stacked against ever beating the government you may ask ‘what’s the point?’ To be honest, I sometimes ask myself the same thing regarding that part of the process. But that is the point, the vote is only part of the process. Democratically elected Members of Parliament have the right to express their views on behalf of their constituents and air their political views on a wide range of subjects, before they are voted on. The recording of the dissent is important. Otherwise the records would show that everyone agrees and apathy would prevail. And that is why the suppression of the voices of the SNP MPs in the House of Commons last night is a travesty. The Conservative Government used the process of the House to silence the dissenting voices. We were not allowed to voice our disapproval and that is a dangerous path to go down. And while we utilised every trick in the book to make our voices heard, the Scottish Conservatives mocked us and Scottish Labour sat in silence. When it came to a vote Scottish Labour abstained on matters that have been fundamental to the devolution settlement since 1999. And the Scottish Conservatives voted for the Westminster power grab. The great joy they took in doing so just had to be seen to be believed. Last night the Devolution settlement that specifies that certain specific powers are reserved with everything else devolved was ripped up by the Conservative Westminster Government. The powers being returned from the European Union which are not specifically reserved will now go to Westminster despite four of the five parties in Holyrood rejecting that proposal. Events such as last nights inevitably result in calls for the SNP to walk away from Westminster and I understand the frustration that produces that demand. Believe me we all feel the frustration and anger. But to walk away would mean that all the other work that is only possible at Westminster would not get done. The Select Committees, the All-party groups, the cross house groups, the access to lobby groups. As a constituent MP the access that I get to experts and organisations are too valuable an asset to my constituents for me to walk away from.

Last night, the U.K. Government and the Scottish Labour MPs were exposed and I and my colleagues shall continue to shine a light on the shortcomings, the self serving and the deceit that is at the heart of Westminster.