Unite the union and Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for health and sport, have joined forces to highlight the nation’s efforts to fight the drugs death epidemic is at significant risk following Glasgow University’s forensic toxicology service losing a £1 million contract to provide reports to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

It is estimated that the University’s service covers around 90 per cent of drugs related deaths in Scotland at a time when the nation’s drugs death rate surged to nearly three times that of the UK, and is higher than that reported for any other EU country. The number of drugs-related deaths in Scotland soared to 1,187 last year according to statistics released by The National Records of Scotland. The figure is 27 per cent higher than the previous year.

Unite the union, which represents workers in the Toxicology Unit, is heavily criticising the lack of consultation and internal wrangling involving the University of Glasgow, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, which has now left workers fearing for their jobs. It is understood that other institutions and universities have been approached about potentially providing the service but there is no expertise, knowledge or capacity elsewhere in Scotland with the University of Glasgow being the only institution who can provide this service.

The loss of the contract means that the necessary toxicology reports provided to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are now in danger of being significantly delayed, or potentially being outsourced outside Scotland. It is not uncommon for toxicology reports to take up to 6 months in England, while reports in Scotland are provided for in weeks. The University of Glasgow’s service provides testing and early warning systems, and was due to take part in monitoring for the new heroin-assisted treatment programme to be introduced. The vast majority of drug-related deaths - 1,021 - involved heroin.

Monica Lennon MSP is lodging a motion in the Scottish parliament highlighting the potential crisis facing Scotland’s response to the drugs related death epidemic and calling for immediate action to resolve the crisis. Motion S5M-18362 states: “That the parliament recognises what it considers the important work of the University of Glasgow’s forensic toxicology service in providing reports for approximately 90% of drug deaths in Scotland; recognises what it sees as the importance of this work in providing early warning systems that help reduce fatalities due to drug misuse; further recognises the knowledge, experience and expertise of those involved; is seriously concerned that the service is reportedly under threat due to what it understands is a failure to reach a contractual agreement between the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the University; considers that such a failure and uncertainty impacts on the University's staff, who currently provide this service, and calls on the Scottish Government to intervene to ensure Scotland retains a forensic toxicology service with at least the same level of knowledge, skills and experience as the current service.”

Alison MacLean, Unite regional industrial officer, said: “Unite represents the technicians whose jobs have been put at risk by the failure to secure an extension to the Crown Office contract at the University of Glasgow’s toxicology service. It is the only department in Scotland with the necessary capacity, knowledge and expertise to provide reports within weeks on drugs related deaths. It’s an outrage that the workers were given little warning over the potential job losses, and Unite is doing everything we can to ensure this position is reversed. At a time when Scotland has the highest drugs related deaths in Europe to lose this service would be untenable for both the public health and safety.”

Monica Lennon MSP added: “Scottish Labour is standing fully behind the workers at Scotland’s only Toxicology Unit and we wholeheartedly support Unite’s campaign. That’s why I have tabled a motion in the Scottish parliament and I invite MSPs from every party to sign it. The Scottish Government must intervene to protect jobs and the continuity of this crucial service. For this to be happening when Scotland is experiencing a drugs death emergency is absurd.”

ENDS

For further information contact Alison MacLean on (07793662077).

Notes to editors:

  • Unite Scotland is the country's biggest and most diverse trade union with around 150,000 members. The union is led in Scotland by Pat Rafferty