LEGAL HIGHS: WHAT IS BEING DONE?

 

After our summer break, we wanted to do a piece about an issue that is causing growing concern across the region – that of legal highs, also known as psychoactive substances.
These can come in the form of synthetic cannabis, powders or other substances of unknown ingredients and strength.
We asked the PSNI a range of questions about their efforts to address the sale and use of legal highs – and we also asked Royal Mail about their detention processes for legal highs at distribution centres where packets have been bought online.
We asked the police what work with external bodies they have undertaken to stop the sale of legal highs here, or being delivered to addresses here.
The PSNI told us that the are engaged with the NCA, DOJ, DHSSPS, PPS, Forensic Science Agency NI, Councils and the Attorney General.
As part of that engagement, the PSNI alongside local councils used the General Product Safety Regulations to seize items and effectively ban the sale of legal highs which resulted in the closure of all so called head shops which sell legal highs over the counter.
There are seven teams of 15 officers within the police which tackle Organised Crime, including those deemed to be involved in the production and sale of these substances.
Crucially, we also asked the police if they utilised human intelligence sources – informants – and if any of these were under the age of 18. The PSNI issued us with a Neither Confirm or Deny response – for a number of reasons such as national security and the integrity of ongoing investigations.
Royal Mail were asked to outline their detection processes for legal highs and how many items they have detected and seized in a certain timeframe.
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “Royal Mail does not knowingly carry any illegal items in its network. Where Royal Mail has any suspicion that illegal items are being sent through our system, we always work closely with the police and other authorities to assist their investigations and to prevent such activities from happening. For obvious reasons, we are not able to give any further details about our security measures as this would compromise our operations.”

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REVEALED: ABUSE ALLEGATIONS IN SOCIAL CARE

In light of a number of investigations by the BBC and other organisations into care homes for the elderly, and those with disabilities, BtP has undertaken an investigation of complaints made to the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) responsible for regulating the health and social care sector which includes children’s homes, nursing homes and residential care homes.
We asked the RQIA, since 2011, how many complaints have been made on the basis of the following:
  • Theft
  • Abuse (physical or mental)
    Fraud
  • Assault (physical or sexual)

RQIA told us they would respond on the basis of how they record incidents, under the banners;

  •  A1: Theft or burglary
  •  G6.1: Allegation of Misconduct (Physical)
  •  G6.3: Allegation of Misconduct (Psychological/Emotional)
  •  G6.4: Allegation of Misconduct (Financial/Material)
  •  G6.2: Allegation of Misconduct (Sexual)

Since 2011, almost 4,000 complaints in total have been made by users of those services.  RQIA provided us with the complaints made broken down by Health Trust area, and it must be said that these are allegations – we have no way of knowing if these have been substantiated given the PSNI role and the confidentiality around such investigations.

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Belfast has seen 898 complaints made to RQIA since 2011, the majority of these, 412, are for physical misconduct which could involve physical abuse. 153 instances of psychological abuse and the same number of allegations of theft or fraud were made within the trust area.

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The Northern Trust is the largest Trust geographically in NI, covering four council areas.  691 complaints have been made to RQIA from this area since 2011.  The trend of allegations of physical misconduct being the highest recorded complaint continues here, with 339 complaints made on this basis.  125 complaints of allegations of psychological misconduct were made over that period also.

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The South Eastern Trust has the highest overall number of complaints at 1,015, and bar far the highest number of allegations of physical misconduct at 511.  In fact, apart from allegations of theft or burglary, this Trust has the highest number of complaints across all categories.  107 of financial/material misconduct, 183 on psychological misconduct and 88 of sexual misconduct.  It is also worth nothing, that although not broken down by where complaints came from, the South Eastern Trust also provides healthcare services to all NI Prison Service institutions.

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552 complaints in total were made in the Southern Trust area, again the majority of these allegations of physical misconduct – 227.  108 complaints alleging psychological misconduct were also made in the period.

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200 allegations of physical misconduct were made in the Western Trust, and 91 of allegations of psychological misconduct making up more than half of the 450 total complaints made in the period.

rqiatotal

Concerning, no?

 

 

DERRY DETOX: ADDING INSULT TO INJURY

EDIT: We have been told by the Western Trust that the Omagh Addiction Treatment Unit closed for a refurb on 3 July 2015.

Readers in the North West will remember reading our very popular piece on how the campaign for a detoxification unit in Derry was betrayed by a range of political parties, health trusts, and their own council – you can read it again here.

The whole process to reconfigure the services into a ‘regional network’ started with a consultation that ended in January 2014.  As part of this, four centres would cater to all of NI and an existing centre would have 8 beds to serve the Western Trust.

In October 2015, Chair of the Stormont Health Committee was informed by the Western Trust that the new service would be operational by January 2016. (Source).

However, to add insult to injury for the people of the North’s second largest City, BtP can reveal today that the Omagh unit has been totally closed for some time – meaning the Western Trust has had no 24/7 inpatient detox services at all.

We asked the Western Trust to give us information about how many patients the Omagh centre had seen since the reconfiguration of the service took place, broken down by month.

In an astonishing reply, the Trust told us:

“We have been advised by the Trust’s Directorate of Adult Mental Health Services that unfortunately due to the refurbishment requirement in the former facility, the detoxification unit is not currently operational.”

In a piece in the Ulster Herald in April 2015, a local Omagh Councillor was told that the service would be up and running from June 2015. (Source)  In it, the Councillor informed the paper that correspondence from the Department of Health stated that:

“The intention being to have the Omagh ATU operating in its enhanced role from June 2015, subject to recruitment and training.”

We asked the Trust when the service closed for refurbishment, but have not had any reply as yet.  The Trust did inform us that the work was due to finish at the end of March – but the question remains – how could the Western area be left with no provision at all for any period of time given the need and demand of a proper service from the people of the North West?  It is now over two years since the consultation ended for the new service.

NI’S AUTISM ASSESSMENT SHAME

It is by sheer coincidence that Health Minister Simon Hamilton announced this week a further £2m funding for autism support services – a welcome development.  Coincidence because we at BtP have been digging for information in each of our Trusts for information for the past five weeks relating to the waiting times for autism assessments for both children and adults.  We weren’t expecting some of the figures that were uncovered.

The figures we received uncover what we can only describe as a shameful and utterly disgraceful legacy that has no doubt impacted families and the services to their loved ones over recent years.  Some of our figures show that in some cases, assessments took not weeks, not months, but years to be carried out.  For a modern country, that is unacceptable.

We asked each Trust to outline each year since 2011 the longest, shortest and average time it took to carry out both adult and child assessments.

WHSCTLogo

The Western Trust which stretches from Derry to Fermanagh, is by far the worst performing Trust for autism assessments.  In one instance, it took almost four and a half years (1,621 days) for an adult to have an assessment undertaken – and this was not in the middle ages, it was in 2014.

The longest assessment for a child in the Western Trust was still over a year in 2011, at 424 days.

child whsct

Whilst falling from the atrocious high between 2012-2014, the graph evidently demonstrates there is a dramatic climb back to over a year for assessments.

adult whsct

Strangely, the Trust could only give us the data we requested from 2014 for the adult assessments.

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The Northern Trust also has a shameful record, with one case for a child’s assessment taking almost two years in 2011.  This waiting time improves in 2012-2013 but is again creeping up.  The record for adult assessments is as bad – almost two years waiting for one case in 2012.  However, it does have to be recognised that the Northern Trust in some cases has some of the shortest waiting times also, but this is likely to be due to emergency circumstances.

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The Northern Trust could only give us up until the 2014-15 financial year end.

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The Southern Trust has a relatively stable waiting time across both adult and child assessments – albeit still too long.

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Again in another mindboggling decision, the Trust have only told us that an adult assessment currently take 30 months.  This is because, it states:

“The Adult ASD diagnostic service in the Southern Trust became operational again in September 2015 after a period when it was stood down due to the staffing difficulties.  The resource available to the Trust to deliver this service, with staff skilled in diagnosis, can only only provide one clinic per month.  Due to the complexities of the diagnostic process and the time required to complete the initial screening assessments, each clinic can only see 2 people per clinic.  Therefore the waiting time for a diagnostic assessment is currently 30 months and continues to grow with 62 people on the waiting list.”

We will let the people of the Southern Trust area who are in need of this service address that.

BHSCT

Those in the Belfast Trust area will be surprised to note that the information we got from every other Trust in one form or another was ‘not available in the format we requested’ from Belfast.

Alas, they do tell us that the current waiting times for a child assessment is 20 months for primary and 22 months for post-primary aged children.

The adult assessment waiting times are as bad, with the waiting list currently standing at 20 months.

SEHSCT

The South Eastern Trust is another example of a horrendous waiting time for both adult and child assessments in 2012, dipping in 2013-14, and again beginning to rise.

Indeed, at 235 days, the waiting times for child assessments is at their highest ever in this area.  The longest wait for an adult assessment was in 2011 at 420 days, yet in 2015 with the most up to date figures, the longest wait stands at 392 days.

schild sehsctadult sehsct

Amongst all of the data we have received, it is clear that whatever provision was put in place in the 2012-2013 period, times fell almost across the board, but now timescales for assessments are creeping back up, most likely in light of the austerity budget agreed by the Executive.  What is also quite worrying and frustrating in equal measure is the lack of uniform recording of waiting times across all the Trusts.

We understand wholeheartedly that the staff behind these services are doing their best, absolutely, it is those higher up the chain that need to look at these figures.  For any family out there who is perhaps fighting a case for their loved one and who think our figures might be of use, please do email us and we will be happy to provide them to you.

DERRY DETOX: BETRAYED?

In the last two years our readers in Derry will have been all too aware of the debate about the provision of detoxification services in the City.  Today, BtP can reveal who or what organisations supported a Derry detox centre when the official consultation was released in 2013.  The results may surprise you.

The Health and Social Care Board issued a consultation in September 2013 about the configuration of in-patient (or Tier 4) addiction treatment services.  At the time, there were a total of 42 beds available to cater for both in-patient addiction services, and rehabilitation.

Antrim housed a 7-day 10 bed service for detox and stabilization

Downpatrick housed a 7-day 14 bed service for detox/stabilisation and rehabilitation

Armagh had a 5-day service with 10 beds for detox/stabilisation

and Omagh had 5 beds for rehabilitation on a 5-day basis

The Board had proposed as part of its plan for the future of these services:

“Future Trust Tier 4 provision should be based upon a total of 24 beds regionally reflecting existing levels of HSC detoxification / stabilisation provision. To provide reasonable geographical access, these beds should be provided across two sites. This would include limited provision for rehabilitation for physically or mentally vulnerable patients.”

As far as responses go, the Board received responses from the following during the consultation period:

HSC Trusts = 5      Primary care = 1

Political representatives = 5

District Council Officers = 4

Service User Network Groups = 4

Individuals = 7     Voluntary / Other = 12

Responses

Our readers will not be surprised to learn that the consultation received a number of responses calling for the service in Omagh to be secured.

These include:

West Tyrone SDLP    West Tyrone Sinn Fein

An unnamed W Tyrone MLA (party not stated) and an unnamed W Tyrone Sinn Fein MLA

Western Health and Social Care Trust and UNISON

One political representative’s response sought for the City to have a dedicated detox facility:

A Derry SDLP MLA – former MLA Pat Ramsey (we have verified this from an old press release)

There are a number of other responses from groups and unnamed individuals with differing view points – however, all of these responses, except one (the response from Pat Ramsey) have supported the call for the service in the West to remain in Omagh, and have not made any specific mention of the siting of a service in Derry/Londonderry.  There was no response from Derry City Council.

Given the intense and public campaign to have a detoxification provision in the City, it is interesting to note that only one elected representative responded, and that the Western Trust itself did not seek to have a facility in the City.

We also asked the Board for ‘all documentation and correspondence from Derry City Council, Derry City and Strabane District Council (new Supercouncil) or any individual members of either of these institutions to the HSCB in relation to the provision of a detoxification facility in the North West in the last 18 months. (covers all of the consultation period and a year after)

Sadly, the response was that there was no record of any contact.