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Random testing could send out stronger message on drugs, says south end councillor

South mainland councillor Allison Duncan thinks more can be done to tackle drug use in Shetland.
Shetland South councillor Allison (Flea) Duncan. Photo: SIC

THE VICE-chairman of Shetland’s health and social care partnership has suggested that the council and health board could randomly test staff for drugs to send out a stronger message on substance misuse.

Councillor Allison Duncan raised the idea at Wednesday’s meeting of Shetland’s integration joint board (IJB) as he expressed concern over the prevalence of drugs in the isles.

He said if workplaces like Sullom Voe Terminal can undertake random drug testing with a “zero tolerance” approach then perhaps Shetland Islands Council and NHS Shetland should follow suit.

Tests could take place weekly, the south end councillor suggested, to “set an example”.

Current council policy, however, states that only ‘safety critical posts’ – such as ferry and airport staff, as well as people who operate vehicles, plant or heavy machinery – may be randomly tested for drugs and alcohol.

These tests will not take place without the employee’s consent. If a staff member declines, a disciplinary investigation may take place.

NHS Shetland policy, meanwhile, says that there is “no justification for drug testing in the workplace as a means of policing the private behaviour of employees, or of improving performance and productivity”.

However, it may carry out tests if “someone’s behaviour arouses suspicion or if there is an incident where substance misuse is suspected”.

Director of human resources Lorraine Hall said the health board had not identified a problem with drugs among staff, adding that there could be a human rights issue over random tests.

“The policy has been agreed in partnership and we believe it proportionate and appropriate,” she said.

“There has been no evidence that we need to move to random testing as there has been no risk identified either because of an adverse event or patient safety issue.”

Duncan raised the test idea after claiming that more emphasis should be placed on tackling drug use in Shetland’s Partnership plan for 2018-2028.

A report presented to members on Wednesday said that the focus of activity in the partnership plan for the IJB when it comes to ‘people’ is in tackling alcohol misuse, healthy weight and physical activity and low income/poverty.

Shetland’s “affluence” was a reason why drug taking was on the up, Duncan said.

“We do have a serious problem with alcohol, but at the same time, drugs must be taken into consideration,” he added.

Chairwoman Marjorie Williamson agreed with Duncan’s general views on substance misuse and said it it could be an “equally bad problem in years to come” alongside alcohol if it isn’t addressed.

Speaking after the meeting, Duncan added: “Drugs is a serious problem in Shetland. It’s based on affluence, whereas in other parts of the United Kingdom it’s based on deprivation.

“From an affluence aspect, it’s quite clear because look at the unemployment rate. I just saw the other week it was something like 0.7 per cent. There’s no other place in Britain that has such a low unemployment rate.”

He said that highlighting the issue and education are two initial ways the problem could start to be addressed.