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Spice epidemic in prisons puts nurses at risk

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As nurses are often first on the scene in an emergency, they are expected to enter cells before the smoke has cleared meaning that they can inhale spice second-hand

Nurses who work in prisons are being put at risk by inmates taking spice.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has written to Michael Spurr, the chief executive officer of the HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) calling for more protection for nurses and health professionals from the effects of spice – which is laboratory-created cannabis.

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

‘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.’

As nurses are often first on the scene in an emergency, they are expected to enter cells before the smoke has cleared meaning that they can inhale it second-hand.

The effects of this smoke can cause nurses to be unable to carry out their care effectively – in one case, a nurse lost consciousness after inhaling the psychoactive fumes and had to be taken by ambulance to an emergency department.

The RCN argues that current guidelines from HMPPS conflates the effects of cigarettes with the ‘serious and acute issue of exposure’ to psychoactive fumes.

The guidance also states that nurses have a duty to protect a prisoner who is ‘in danger of immediate harm’ even in a cell where smoke has not yet cleared – which is contrary to guidelines from the Resuscitation Council that states that professionals should assess their own safety before treating casualties.

‘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,’ said one nurse to the RCN.

‘It’s really bizarre. I’ve sat in my car in the carpark 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.’

This news comes after a report last year from the HM Inspectorate of Prisons which stated their concerns over the prevalence of spice in prisons.

‘The best way to keep staff and inmates safe is to keep drugs out of our prisons,’ said a Prison Service spokesman.

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

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