Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Priority Questions.

Illegal Drug Dealing in Hospitals.

3:00 pm

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Question 79: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the extent of the problem of drug dealing in hospitals; the name of the hospitals affected; the measures being taken to deal with same; the co-operation being sought from the Garda; the treatment programmes being provided to deal this problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35536/05]

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I am advised by the Health Services Executive that, unfortunately, all hospitals in large urban areas, like most public buildings, face potential risks of drug dealing on their premises. Hospitals work closely with gardaí to minimise such activity and there are protocols in place to alert the Garda where concerns arise.

I understand the Deputy's question relates to media reports about widespread drug dealing within St. James's Hospital. St. James's Hospital refutes allegations of systematic drug dealing within the hospital. In the past, the hospital sought the advice of the Garda Síochána when a problem was identified, and having taken its advice on board, crime prevention measures have been implemented. The hospital is active in utilising CCTV and ultra violet lighting along with other recognised security measures in combating any form of drug abuse. Liaison is maintained between the hospital and the Garda on a 24-hour basis.

My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has advised me that a Garda inspector from Kilmainham Garda Station acts as a designated liaison officer to St. James's Hospital and that regular meetings are held between gardaí and the hospital authorities. This ongoing liaison is part of the implementation of the crime prevention initiative, Hospital Watch, which is due to be officially launched in St. James's Hospital in December. Hospital Watch schemes are already in place in Tallaght, Blanchardstown, Beaumont and the Mater hospitals to ensure that hospitals and their surroundings are safe places for patients and visitors.

Garda authorities further advise that while a number of complaints have been received of low level drug dealing taking place in the grounds of St. James's Hospital and in the vicinity of the adjacent Luas station, local gardaí are unaware of reports of open drug dealing within the wards, waiting areas or in the hospital corridors.

All reports of crime related activity in the area are vigorously investigated and dealt with in the appropriate manner.

Additional material not given on the floor of the House.

As the Deputy is aware the delivery of drug treatment programmes is the responsibility of the Health Services Executive. I am informed by it that the range and availability of treatment services has expanded considerably in recent years.

Services provided directly by the health boards include outreach services, education services, treatment services which include assessment, stabilisation, harm reduction measures, care planning, methadone maintenance, and counselling and detoxification within specialist clinics, residential settings and community settings. In addition, services are provided by a range of voluntary and community sector organisations which are funded and co-ordinated by the HSE. The cumulative increase in additional annual funding provided to the HSE to address the problem of drug misuse since 1997 amounts to approximately €57 million.

There are currently 66 drug treatment locations in the HSE areas compared with 12 in 1996. General practitioners and pharmacists also provide treatment services. At the end of September 2005 there were 7,619 people receiving methadone treatment compared with 1,861 at the end of December 1996.

Photo of Liz McManusLiz McManus (Wicklow, Labour)
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Many people were shocked by what they read in the newspapers about this problem. Is the Minister of State aware that illegal drug dealing in hospitals creates a serious risk, not just to patients, but to the staff of the hospital? It is his responsibility to find out the extent of the problem. It would be useful to know, for example, how many arrests have been made for illegal drug dealing in our hospitals. I asked him about the extent of the problem, but he was not able to advise me on that. Would the Minister of State agree that this shows a level of ignorance not commensurate with the problem of which we are now aware, which is clearly not being dealt with adequately?

The report of a particular accident and emergency staff member of St. James's Hospital stated that drugs changing hands in the hospital included cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and hash and that whatever anyone wanted was available in the hospital. We need to know how many arrests have been made in St. James's Hospital as a result of investigations of illegal drug dealing. Why is it that when we checked today there did not appear to be any additional security measures in place? Are there undercover gardaí in our hospitals assessing the problem or will we have the ongoing problem we have in our prisons now in our hospitals, but at much greater risk to the public? What measures does the Minister for Health and Children intend to introduce to deal with this new risk in our hospitals? We already have MRSA and hospital acquired infections. Is the Government to accept that illegal criminal activity in our hospitals will now be part and parcel of our experience of the health service?

Photo of Seán PowerSeán Power (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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Hospitals are no different to other public buildings in that there is always the potential for drug dealing on the premises or in the surrounding area. In this instance a report appeared in the newspaper and St. James's Hospital refuting the allegations of systematic drug dealing within the hospital. The Deputy has said that information came from a staff member. If any staff member has that information, he or she should make it available to gardaí as soon as possible. The hospital authorities have been working closely with gardaí and I mentioned the liaison between them and Kilmainham Garda station.

Illegal drug dealing is the last activity we want to see associated with hospitals. We do not want to facilitate that. Every effort will be made to stamp out any illegal drug dealing taking place. We have a number of security measures in place. We would like to get the co-operation of any staff members with particular information and any helpful information they have should be passed on to gardaí.