Drug dealers are '˜preying on Leeds's most vulnerable patients' at hospital

Police officers, a sniffer dog and NHS security staff teamed up yesterday for a day of action at Leeds' main mental health facility amid concerns drugs are being smuggled in by dealers or visitors.

Tuesday, 21st March 2017, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:13 am

The number of incidents involving illegal substances have almost doubled at St James’ Hospital’s Becklin Centre, which provides the base for NHS crisis and in-patient mental health services in the city.

The action came after one patient complained that they overheard people discussing buying or bringing drugs into the centre, and revealed an occasion where someone smoked cannabis on the grounds, in front them and their visiting son.

Gail Galvin, a matron of 10 years at the centre in Burmantofts, said: “In the last few years there has been a dramatic increase of drugs here.

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Police officers briefing outside the Becklin Centre in Leeds on Monday. Pictures by Simon Hulme.

“About just under half of our patients tell us that they use illicit drugs when they are admitted. Some people might think, ‘Well, how can that happen?’ - but we are an open unit.

“It’s not a high-security unit, most of our patients are here voluntarily and visitors obviously come onto the wards.”

No drugs were found on the grounds by officers yesterday but the sniffer dog indicated drugs had previously been used at some locations.

The number of drug-related incidents at the 84-bed Becklin Centre nearly doubled from 135 in 2015, to 248 in 2016.

Police officers briefing outside the Becklin Centre in Leeds on Monday. Pictures by Simon Hulme.

Mrs Galvin said the rise is in line with a national trend, but warned that those who supply illegal substances to patients risk damaging their treatment.

She added: “People experience distressing symptoms with mental health and some take drugs to self-medicate but it makes those symptoms worse and any positive effects from our treatment can be lost.

“People in here are vulnerable. The unit is in an area of Leeds where drugs are easily accessible and drug dealers are preying on vulnerable people.”

Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust launched the day of action yesterday as part of its Against Drugs campaign, which aims to educate people about the impact drugs can have on their mental health in partnership with West Yorkshire Police to prevent illegal substances being brought onto the premises.

Police spoke with patients, staff and visitors during the day of action, which they said was “positively received”.

Drugs seized from the grounds, or from patients when first admitted, are held in a secure ‘drop safe’, installed in February 2016 to contain potential evidence before being handed over to police.

Illegal substances confiscated in the past include heroin, crack-cocaine, MDMA and novel psychoactive substances (NPS), formerly known as legal highs, which have flooded the market over the last few years.

Officers yesterday opened the box for the first time in six weeks, and inside found a haul of 13 items including cannabis, suspected amphetamines and possible NPS’.

Dan Jones, local security management specialist at the trust, said: “Over the last few months we have seen a big increase in drugs.

“There is no rhyme or reason to it - one month it might be marijuana, next month it might be heroin. People don’t come in here and start taking drugs, people have come in here with a drug problem. “The key thing to note is that we won’t just get a load of drug dealers lining the street here. All that happens is that the address they have the drugs supplied to changes, but they are far more vulnerable than they were at home.

“It could be friends and it could be family coming in - because they think they are doing them a favour, but drugs and mental health don’t match.”

Mr Jones said that Spice, a dangerous NPS that has become popular among users across the UK over the last few years, has been increasingly seized at the centre in the last two years.

He added: “If it was legal, you would say that Spice had taken the market by storm. It has just flown. NPS have really come abound, we have seen a big influx. Spice seems to be the most popular, I think because it’s a brand name.”

As part of the trust’s Action Against Drugs initiative, information and advice will be given out about the dangers of drugs for patients and carers.

There will also be regular patrols at the Becklin Centre by officers and the trust said it will work with police to develop new ways of managing the problem.

Sergeant Jonathan McNiff, from West Yorkshire Police, who led the police operation yesterday, said: “We have had officers on site all day speaking to service users, visitors and staff.

“The operation has been positively received. Thirteen items of property have been seized from the drop safe, and will be subject to further investigation. Nothing further was found during yesterday’s search, although the dog has indicated that drugs have been present previously.”

Warning not to stigmatise or criminalise patients

Police and health bosses have warned against criminalising or stigmatising patients with mental health issues over the latest drugs rise.

Dr Sara Munro, chief executive of the trust, said yesterday’s day of action was about making the facility safer for patients, who could be seen as an “easy target” by drug suppliers.

It came as the YEP has been raising awareness and calling on people across the city to help combat stigma surrounding mental health in Leeds as part of our #SpeakYourMind campaign, which was backed yesterday by the Prime Minister.

Dr Munro said: “We don’t want to stigmatise this unit around drugs.

“Our staff are here to provide therapeutic care, not to police the unit.

“Rather than just taking an individual approach, we are trying to look at this more broadly, trying to make it safer and target those that are targeting our vulnerable patients.”

She praised police for backing their campaign and supporting the day of action.

The YEP’s #SpeakYourMind campaign launched in October last year, and called on people and businesses to help tackle the damaging social stigma that can surround mental health in Leeds.

To get involved or share your story, email [email protected] or use the hashtag #SpeakYourMind on Facebook and Twitter.

‘I was appalled’ at drugs used on site

The day of action at the Becklin Centre came after one patient complained about illegal substances being used on the site.

In their complaint the patient said that in the two weeks since they were admitted, they had “on several occasions” heard talk of buying and bringing drugs into the centre. They also said they had heard people approaching others, asking if they wanted to buy drugs.

When the patient’s son visited the centre, they said someone was smoking cannabis in front of them.

“I was appalled and told him to move away,” they said.

Following the complaint, which also raised concerns about putting vulnerable patients at risk at the site, the NHS trust organised the day of action.

The trust said it had received four drug-related complaints over the last 12 months about the Becklin Centre.

Video by Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.