Pubdate: Tue, 27 Jan 2004
Source: Herald, The (UK)
Copyright: 2004 The Herald
Author: Helen Puttick
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


COMPULSORY drug testing for Scottish nurses is being considered by the
country's largest nursing union amid fears that staff may be under the
influence of illegal substances on hospital wards.

Screening of nurses for drugs or alcohol at work is being put to the
vote by the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, and a pilot project to
gauge the scale of substance abuse may follow.

Previous attempts to study the level of the problem in Scotland broke
down amid concern that checks could make it harder to recruit nursing

However, leading members of RCN Scotland want to look at the issue,
saying members are at risk because they work in a stressful
environment, have access to drugs and sometimes need to stay awake all

It is estimated 10% to 20% of registered nurses in the United States
have substance abuse problems with 6% to 8% likely to be impaired by
their habit, but there is no UK data.

May McCreaddie, a member of the RCN's Scottish board and senior
lecturer at the school of nursing in Paisley, proposed the issue for
discussion at the union's annual conference next month.

She said: "There is no detail at all on the level of substance use
among nurses in the UK, but if you consider nurses, they are quite a
vulnerable group, low in self esteem, open to a lot of pressures. They
have access to a lot of substances and there is some evidence to
suggest that when someone does have a problem nurses are more likely
to cover up for them than expose them."

Random drug testing was proposed at St Bartholomew's School of Nursing
in London in 1999, after students admitted taking substances including
cannabis and ecstasy, but faced strong opposition.

However, experts say recreational drug use is widespread, with 17% of
16-24-year-olds and 10% of 25-34-year-olds telling the British Crime
Survey they had taken an illicit drug in the last month.

Ms McCreaddie said she is opposed to mandatory testing nationwide but
wants a study to assess how prevalent drug and alcohol abuse is in the
nursing community.

"It is something we need to look at," she said. "Quite often nursing
is regulated by other people. I think it is good if we can do it ourselves."

Scotland Against Drugs, an agency launched to raise awareness of the
nation's drug misuse problem, provides companies with a free drug
policy which includes unannounced testing of staff.

Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, said: "If
employers generally think they are protected from recreational drug
use in the workplace they are making an error. For some who use drugs
at the weekend or at night the effects will still be there the next
day. Therefore there will be a very significant effect on a firm's
profitability or efficiency."

He recommended that anyone caught by screening should be offered help
and support by their employer rather than being shown the door.

Jane McCready, chairwoman of the Scottish Board of the RCN, said this
was also their approach to testing, which is likely to be discussed
and voted on by more than 100 members at the March conference.

Mrs McCready, who is on the organising committee for the conference,
said: "We are not looking at it saying if this is happening we are
going to punish you for doing it.?"

John Arthur, of drugs information group Crew 2000, warned drug testing
pushed people towards harder drugs which clear the system quicker.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin