19:13, May 14 201 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-14 19:13:29
Nurses falling ill after inhaling spice fumes in prisons, says union

Nurses treating prisoners who have fallen ill after smoking the psychoactive drug spice are suffering adverse effects to their own health after inhaling fumes, the nursing union has said.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says that under current guidance its members are expected to enter cells before smoke has cleared. As a result they are reporting to the union that they are suffering the effects of inhaling the substance for hours following exposure, with some unable to drive home after their shift, it says.

In at least one case, a nurse was taken to A&E by ambulance after being knocked unconscious by the psychoactive fumes.

One nurse, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Recently we’ve had to give medical care to over 50 people [who have been smoking spice] 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.

“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.”

Use of psychoactive substances is widespread in UK jails and the Prison Officers Association has previously warned about the impact on its members. Last month, Tees, Esk & Wear Valleys NHS foundation trust withdrew nursing staff from Holme House prison in County Durham due to the risk posed by spice.

The RCN has written to the head of the prison service (HMPPS) demanding more is done to protect nurses from the effects of the drug.

Janet Davies, the RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “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.”

The union argues that HMPPS guidance fails to distinguish between the longer-term issue of secondhand tobacco smoke and the “serious and acute issue” of exposure to spice.

The guidance also outlines a duty “to intervene to protect a prisoner(s) or member of staff in danger of immediate harm in a cell where smoke or fumes has not yet cleared”.

The RCN says such a requirement is unacceptable for healthcare staff, given that emergency responders are advised, under Resuscitation Council guidelines, to ensure their own safety before treating casualties.