The most used needle exchange programme in Scotland – and perhaps the whole of the UK – has been threatened to be shut down. ScotRail claimed it was going to stop the programme, running from the Boots in Glasgow Central Station, following one drug overdose and 10 incidents of drug litter. However, due to intense pressure coming from politicians as well as campaigns and charity groups, it has promised to review its decision.
ScotRail’s decision has sparked outrage because the programme was introduced in July 2016 for the specific reason of the growing HIV crisis in Glasgow. The number of cases jumped from a consistent average of 10 per year to 90 new cases in 2015 alone. Clearly, this is a problem that requires a solution, and fast. So far, the needle exchange programme has evidently filled the gap. Since its opening, it has conducted 9583 transactions to 1940 people, providing 41,238 sets of clean injecting equipment as well as 20,520 sheets of foil, which are used to promote transitions from injecting to the less risky inhalation practices.
ScotRail has argued that it also needs to consider the other 100,000 customers using the station. Yet this argument doesn’t stand up to the facts. With only one major overdose incident and ten minor ones of littering, their impact is evidently not as large as the impact that closing the Exchange would have on the community. In the light of this information, Liddel’s assessment is particularly pertinent. He postulates that “potentially, it’s just a population they (Network Rail) would prefer not to have in this station.”
It is in the interests of everybody to use all means possible to fight this growing HIV crisis. On a purely humanitarian basis, the crisis is growing and causing immense suffering for many people. Even from a financial standpoint, the HIV epidemic is something to be fought – NHS estimates HIV treatment for one patient costs £360, 000 over the course of their life, meaning new cases will cost the publicly-funded NHS over £30m.
Aside from basic human decency and compassion, it is irrefutable that all measures must be taken to battle this crisis. The needle exchange programme is a crucial first step to be taken. It limits the likelihood of transmitting HIV as well as providing limited advice from the staff at hand. However, much more has to be done. The next step is to set up the safe injection clinic, which was agreed to in August 2016. This is a crisis which isn’t going to go away on its own: it is urgent, causes immense suffering and needs to be made a priority.