RCN calls for action over prison Spice epidemic putting nurses at risk

Leading nurses warn that the Spice epidemic sweeping British prisons is putting nursing staff at risk.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which is holding its annual congress in Belfast, said that nurses and healthcare assistants are often first on the scene when inmates need emergency care.

The nursing union has called for action after it said that, under current guidance, nurses and healthcare assistant are expected to enter cells before the smoke has cleared.

But after dashing to the scene to help patients, one prison nurse has been taken to A&E by ambulance after being left unconscious by the psychoactive fumes.

Meanwhile others have reported being unable to drive after inhaling fumes while trying to treat patients.

One RCN member reported treating more than 50 cases in a week.

The RCN has written to Michael Spurr, chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, calling on prison bosses to do more to protect nurses and other health workers from the effects of the drug.

It said that the use of psychoactive substances has become “widespread” in British prisons.

A prison nurse, who did not wish to be named, said: “Recently we’ve had to give medical care to over 50 people in one week.

“Walking back after attending to a patient, I’ve suddenly felt dizzy, nauseous, it’s almost like the world has zoomed out.

“It’s really bizarre. I’ve sat in my car in the car park for 50 minutes after work so I feel confident enough to drive.

“We’re all worried about driving in case it’s not safe or we get stopped and it shows in our system.

“If this happened in a hospital, there would be uproar and investigation after investigation.

“I feel like it’s being swept under the carpet. There’s not enough being done.”

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Spice poses a serious threat to nurses, healthcare assistants and prison staff, whose safety and long-term health is being put at risk day in, day out.

“As dedicated health professionals, prison nursing staff are expected to offer high quality care, but they should not be expected to put their own wellbeing on the line to deliver it.

“I have heard some truly shocking stories of nursing staff passing out or being unable to drive after exposure to Spice.

“The scale of this problem demands swift and effective action from HM Prison and Probation Service.

“We would like to see an urgent review of the guidance that properly reflects the risks posed by this extremely dangerous drug.”

A Prison Service spokesman said: “The best way to keep staff and inmates safe is to keep drugs out of our prisons.

“That is why we have trained more than 300 specialist drug dogs, introduced body scanners and intelligence-led searches, and made it a criminal offence to possess psychoactive substances in prison.

“We look forward to discussing these issues with the Royal College of Nursing.”

Meanwhile nurses at the congress will also debate nurse training in relation to suicide.

Members will call for universities offering nursing degrees to include training on suicide prevention.

A previous survey by the College found that three in five nurses had not received any training in suicide prevention or awareness as part of their nursing degree.

Mental health nurse Tim Coupland said: “At some point during our working lives, every health professional will come into contact with someone who is feeling suicidal.

“We all need the confidence to be able to talk frankly and openly with patients about how they are feeling, in order to let them know we can support and help them.”

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