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Warning Council ‘should not get complacent’ despite praise for work tackling discarded needles

Work carried out to reduce the number of discarded needles in Wrexham has been praised by councillors – however despite less prominence, the issue still remains.

Earlier this week Wrexham.com reported that members of the Safeguarding, Communities and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee were to meet for the third time to discuss issues with unsafely discarded needles and evaluate what progress had been made.

One of the key changes made since the last meeting was the introduction of ‘safe lock devices’, which allow users to place their syringes complete with needles into the tube once they have injected.

The meeting was told that once a needle had been placed into the small device, it is unable to be removed or pose a risk to anyone who finds it.

Karen Burton, representing Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said: “We encourage people to use these sharp containers. Once in there they are rendered useless.

“We are seeing them as a positive way forward. We expect them to be returned, but if discarded they present no risk.”

Cllr Brian Cameron queried how the devices would be allocated to people and on what basis.

The meeting was told that the equipment would be provided as part of a needle syringe programme.

Cllr I David Bithell called for clarification on this point, stating: “Is there a needle exchange programme in this borough? We asked in 2016 for the lead member if he will canvas Welsh Government for a programme in the borough.”

Karen explained that a programme had been in place since 1990, adding: “We have one that covers all of north Wales. It is fed to us by Public Health Wales and Welsh Government, we have adopted their guidance and topics.

“Wrexham will have the same needle syringe programme as Rhyl, Cardiff and Swansea.”

Executive Director of Place and Economy, Lee Robinson said: “There has been a needle exhange programme in place since 1990. What we were asked was to lobby Welsh Government was to change the emphasis in who was responsible for discarded needles.

“At the end of the day what we have done is sought to educate users to discard their needles in the safest way possible.”

Cllr John Pritchard said: “We have educated children to avoid needles. How safe are those if they find them on the road? Will you be informing schools on what you are using now?”

Karen said: “We can only hope they will not be found. If they are found they have been designed so that you can’t get the needle or syringe out. There is no danger as a result of that.

“It would not present a health hazard to a child. The needle / syringe is contained within. It has undergone all sorts of testing.”

However Cllr Nigel Williams pointed out that the devices are not easily identifiable, stating: “It doesn’t tell me what it is or what it does. Could it be marked up as a hazard? i thought it would be a standard thing.”

The meeting was told that the health board would have to contact the manufacturer for further information.

One of the recommendations put forward by the committee in February was that links between ‘Groundworker’ weekly meeting and Streetscene were created to help ensure that staff are aware of ‘hotspot’ data.

As a result it was confirmed that council’s Street Scene staff had been provided with since February’s meeting, with confirmation that employees had been on an awareness course to “improve effectiveness at collected needles.”

Mr Robinson said: “As it says in the report, this action has been significantly superseded by some of the things put in place since the last scrutiny around the challenges we face in Wrexham, which is not unlike many other towns and cities with NPS (New Psychoactive Substances).

“What I would say is that while we are talking about discarded needles my understanding is , and the information suggests, is the issue is becoming less and less. The way people consume substances has changed.”

Head of Environment and Planning, Lawrence Isted added that anecdotal data stated that Streetscene staff picked up on average one discarded needle every other day – resulting in 30 over the past two months.

However Cllr Nigel Williams warned that Wrexham Council shouldn’t get complacent and that there is no data to suggest how big a problem discarded needles are in rural parts of the county.

Cllr Derek Wright added that his impression was that the number of discarded needles was lower, however “15 a month seems a lot”.

Questions were also asked about how the public should deal with any needles they find on their private land or in public, with criticism over the head of environment and planning’s suggestion in the reports appendix of ‘putting it in a Tupperware box’ and disposing of it.

Cllr Bithell said: “What would you do with it afterwards? Would you label it, give it to Streetscene or report it to the council? There is a hazard in that box. It doesn’t give me any confidence.

“You’re encouraging people to out them in bins for the recycle team to take away, the sharps then go into stations for sorting, someone could get injured.”

He added: “You mentioned providing the safe lock devices to users. Would it be possible to provide it to all members of the public with private land so they can discard in a safe way free of charge.”

However the meeting was told that the devices are only available for users and are aimed at protecting the public. Cllr Bithell stated that it was a “sad indictment” that the public aren’t being protected from discarded needles as much as the users.

Mr Isted said: “We don’t specifically issue advice to the public on this issued, what I’m trying to say is people should use common sense. If I found one I would pick it up with tweezers and put it in a tin, perhaps not Tupperware, that was a suggestion at the time.

“I can’t speak for all the public. It is like finding a broken piece of glass. Don’t just stick it in the rubbish, I’d be inclined to put it in another receptacle.”

He added: “We need to be practical. We can’t have system where the local authority provides a service, we don’t have resources. We can issue common sense advice. Anyone who finds one would not pick up from pointy end – it is a case of putting in receptacle and general waste.”

Mr Robinson also noted that it was for Public Health Wales to issue advice to the public on what to do if they find a discarded needle.

Cllr Williams said Wrexham Council should be targeting the hotspot areas where discarded needles and drug paraphernalia are found, stating: “I think we should go back to basics. If we are looking to alleviate the problem, we should look at where people are doing it.

“If you are walking down Lord Street, Kingdom would be on you like a tonne of bricks. If someone drops a needle somewhere, we should be targeting those areas and the people dropping them.”

We tweeted this comment, that appeared to get a lot of backing online…

Mr Robinson said: “It is far less easy to detect. It is not like a cigarette being smoked and discarded in public. People do it in nooks and crannies out of sight.”

Comments were also made about discarded drugs waste at the back of shops and car parks in the town centre, with Cllr Pritchard asking who the responsibility belong to.

Mr Isted explained Wrexham Council remove waste from the public and semi-public realm (private land where the public can access), however discarded needles at the back of private properties would be for the owners to deal with.

Cllr Phil Wynn referenced work that had been done at the rear of a number of locations in town, stating that public protection officers can contact landowners and ask them to clear the waste. He added: “Most private landowners when it is brought to their attention will just get on with it.”

One suggestion put forward by Cllr Bithell was to have Wrexham Council collect needles found on private property and then charge the health board for the disposal.

However Mr Isted stated that it is not the council’s responsibility to collect waste from private land.

On Monday Wrexham.com reported that just 40 calls had been made to the piloted phone service over the past 12 months. The designated hotline was being piloted by town centre councillors, with plans to eventually roll it out to all councillors and the public.

Within the report presented to councillors, it was explained that intention was now to progress the service with DAN 24/7 – a Welsh Government funded Drug and Alcohol helpline.

Karen explained that everything is in place and that it hoped that the number will launch next month. She added: “We have had sign ups from all other five authorities in north Wales.

“We have a number and the materials to go with it, there will also be social media going out via the police, who have been an integral part of planning.

“Really we are ready to go and we’re hoping that Wrexham will sign-up for that so it is an all north Wales single point of contact rather than just a five counties point of contact.

“The system is in place and staff are ready to be trained. I think its positive.”

It was also confirmed that the phone number would be free and would be extended to the public when it joins with DAN 24/7.

Cllr Jones picked up on the comment regarding five counties having already signed up and queried if Wrexham was on board with the service. Mr Robinson noted that he was ‘not aware that we are not’.

Three recommendations were put forward by the committee to take forward, with Cllr Wright stating: “I feel that from the information given to us, even though the lead members and health board representatives had had a grilling, I think improvements have been made since the partnership work has been done.

“Personally I would suggest the recommendation is that the committee commend improvements made through the partnership and request for needle awareness information to be given to town and community council forum at the next meeting”

Recommendation about extending the pilot phone number to all councillor prior to its progression with Dan 24/7 and an information report presented to councillors in 12 months, were also approved unanimously by the committee.

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