NHS purchases mobile needle exchange to address Glasgow HIV outbreak

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has bought a mobile needle exchange for people who inject drugs in Glasgow city centre in a attempt to halt an “uncontained HIV outbreak” in Scotland’s largest city.

The Sunday Herald reported that, it is estimated that one-in-five people who inject drugs in public places in Glasgow are now infected with the virus that attacks the immune system.

NHS figures obtained by the paper show there has been 117 new HIV cases among an estimated 400 to 500 people who inject drugs publicly in Glasgow since 2015.

Access to sterile equipment can prevent transmission, but Scotland’s busiest needle exchange in Glasgow Central Station – which operated between 7am and midnight –was closed in September last year by Network Rail, which manages the transport hub, after a person died of an overdose in the public toilets.

NHS figures show a sharp fall in the number of clean needles issued to drug users in Glasgow after the facility closed.

The exchange provided tens of thousands of sets of clean injecting equipment between July 2016 and the closure in September 2017.

Figures show a 16 per cent fall in the number of needles and syringes provided to addicts in Glasgow in the four months after closure.

The NHS has now invested £50,000 in a “mobile injecting equipment van” which will also offer HIV tests to people who use drugs.

Carole Hunter, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s lead addictions pharmacist, said: “There is an HIV outbreak. We’re doing everything we possibly can to contain that.

“We’ve tried to promote all of the other services and equipped outreach services with clean equipment, but we’re also looking at a mobile injecting equipment van that we would be able to have in the area from half past six until ten, which is the time period we’ve lost [after the closure of the Glasgow Central exchange].”

It is hoped the mobile exchange will be on the streets of Glasgow next month.

Chief Executive of Scottish Drugs Forum, David Liddell, described the HIV figures as “alarming” and warned “we have an uncontained HIV outbreak in Scotland’s largest city”.

He said: “There is nothing we can do to prevent further spread in Glasgow and outside the city without decisive action.

“Firstly, we need to regularly test all people at risk to ensure that people who have HIV are aware of their status. Secondly, we need to ensure that people who are living with HIV are engaged in treatment and, thirdly, ensure that this treatment is effective and reduces their viral load to undetectable levels.”

Liddell also called for a “heroin assisted treatment” (HAT) programme in Glasgow, which would see addicts given heroin under medical supervision.

The NHS announced in January that it is “pressing ahead” with plans for a HAT programme.

As part of the city’s response, SDF are providing free staff briefings to voluntary organisations in Glasgow.

Briefings take around 30 minutes and offer the opportunity for staff to receive up-to-date information on the outbreak, testing, treatment and services available, and to ask any questions they may have.

Any Glasgow service interested in receiving such a briefing should contact SDF’s National Training and Development Officer (Harm Reduction and Emergency Response), Emma Hamilton at emma@sdf.org.uk.