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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recess visits

Having taken a short holiday last week I am now working through the recess, carrying out a whole range of visits and meetings both in my constituency and on behalf of my constituents.

I managed to make a day in the Royal Welsh Show last week, which gave me the opportunity to talk to a number of organisations. I also found myself walking past the cattle society stands but fortunately nobody recognised me or else I could have found myself embroiled in a long discussion on bovine TB.

On Friday I attended the 10th anniversary celebration for Swansea Care and Repair at the Liberty Stadium where we enjoyed an entertaining stand-up from the brilliant Kevin Johns. I then moved on to Bridgend and Maesteg, where I was holding advice surgeries.

There has also been quite a lot of correspondence and e-mails to catch up on, so I have spent a couple of days in the Assembly this week. However, on Tuesday I had a very enjoyable morning touring around Neath Port Talbot Hospital, before visiting a number of constituents to discuss various issues they have raised with me.

Yesterday, I visited the Cyrenian's day and health centre in the old St. Matthew's Church opposite Swansea railway station where I spent four hours with the homeless nurse. Jan is employed to work with homeless people around Swansea and carries out outreach work with rough sleepers, with users of the centre, clients of the Swansea Drugs Project and also workers in a number of massage parlours around the City.

She offers health advice and treatment, as well as a whole range of other services that we might otherwise access from hospital or our GP surgery. The most disturbing fact I discovered from her was that there are roughly 7,000 heroin users in Swansea but only 450 treatment places. An addict seeking treatment could wait 6 to 9 months to get a place though it seems a well-known shortcut is through the criminal justice system.

That cannot be right and I will be raising it again with the health minister. I will also be raising with her the prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in the City. Hepatitis is 100 times more infectious that HIV. Hep B can be prevented through vaccination, which is some of the work that Jan does but many get it anyway.

Their treatment can cost the health service many thousands of pounds, if their chaotic lifestyles enable them to access it. Missed appointments are common and the myriad of referral pathways do not always assist this. That is why Jan seeks to short-circuit that whenever she can but even then less than a third of those she guides through the system will complete their treatment.

The cost to the NHS in the future will be enormous as one in ten people can go on to become lifelong or chronic sufferers, at risk of developing fatal liver disease, such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.

The other eye-opener was at the Swansea Drugs project needle exchange where I learned that the biggest growth in demand for needles is coming from steroid abusers. This trend, along with associated drug use such as the anti-cancer drug bought over the internet from the far east to stop body builders developing man boobs, is growing in an alarming manner.

Many steroid users are working, well-organised and can afford their own needles but take advantage of the free exchange that is on offer. Unfortunately, there is no way at the moment of monitoring how people access this service. That will change in September when the Welsh Government introduce a Wales-wide needle exchange database.

The first statistics from that database will be interesting and might help to give a wider picture of drug abuse across Wales. I suspect that many of us will be shocked by what they reveal.
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