Medics had to treat 376 prisoners at Holme House for conditions caused by smoking the spliffs in a single year Staff have reported feeling sick after encountering Spice at Holme House Prison in Stockton
Nurses have been ordered to stop tending to sick convicts at a jail awash with zombie drug Spice – for fear of exposure to fumes. The risk of breathing in mind-altering smoke on a fug-ridden wing had become too high, NHS chiefs judged.
So they took the extreme step of withdrawing services to protect staff.
The prison, Holme House, has had 376 medical emergencies caused by inmates smoking the spliffs in a single year.
Warders at the prison, at Stockton-on-Tees, Co Durham, which has 1,200 inmates, were not so fortunate.
A high level of prison officers at Holme House have gone sick with terrifying symptoms after inhaling fumes at their Spice-riddled workplace. Nearly 15 warders were made ill in one day, forcing the governor Chris Dyer to put the jail in lockdown. Violence against staff and other cons has soared by nearly 50 per cent.
In a shocking condemnation of the Spice threat, Lisa Taylor, head of offender health at the local NHS trust, told officials: “I’m not disputing that the safety of the prisoners is important, but my priority is to look after our staff.
“If we feel there is something going on in that environment we will remove our staff for a period of time.
“We had some difficulties with people affected by Spice. It was happening an awful lot on one wing in one prison.
“I rang the governor and said until you sort that out, our staff are not going.”
David Brown, chief operating officer of the Tees, Esk & Wear Valley NHS Trust, confirmed yesterday: “On one occasion it became necessary to restrict the duties of our staff by withdrawing from a particular wing at HMP Holme House for a short period whilst the prison managed the situation.
“We resumed our regular services as soon as it became safe to do so.”
But experts last night said the epidemic was mirrored at jails across the country.
Janet Davies, head of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The work nurses do in prisons to help offenders, many of whom have serious mental health problems, is extremely important.
“But their own safety has to be top priority. We need to find out how often NHS staff are having to be withdrawn from other jails around the country because of problems like these.”
The Government’s tobacco-smoking ban in prisons has caused a sharp increase in the use of Spice which is smuggled in. Conventional tobacco roll-ups are sold for between £5 and £10 and a 1oz packet can cost £200. But a Spice spliff is available for as little as £3.
The watchdog report on Category C Holme House uncovered by the Sunday People said: “The high availability of psychoactive substances has caused frequent and alarming medical emergencies for prisoners and staff.
“There were 376 recorded incidents in 2017 – 189 in June and July. Incidents often involve violent behaviour towards officers and other prisoners.
“Officers have struggled at times to cope with the scale and frequency of such incidents – a situation exacerbated by their experience of secondary effects and the low staffing levels.”
The report found that violent attacks on guards and other prisoners soared last year with a total of 293 violent attacks and 916 incidents of anti-social behaviour.
That’s a rise of 48 per cent from 2016.
Last August staff had be called in from other jails because around 15 officers at Holme House were too ill to work from the effects of the drug.
Andy Baxter, the jail’s union chief, said “Staff report feeling dizzy, getting quite a blinding headache. A couple have been quite hysterical. One officer said he got a fierce burning sensation in his head which felt like it was covered with nits. He spent the night tearing at the top of his head.”
Prison officers’ union chief Glyn Travis claimed yesterday that Holme House is the worst Spice-affected prison in the UK.
He said: “Holme House has experienced more exposure to second-hand smoke than anywhere else. Spice causes violence, self-harm and suicides and our staff see it first-hand.”
Terry Fullerton, the union’s North East chairman, added: “The effects can feel like the person is having a heart attack. They get severe headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, it’s horrible stuff.”
Labour MP Alex Cunningham, whose Stockton North constituency covers the jail, said: “I’m horrified. We need immediate action. We’ve had the promises from government to install scanners and the prisons minister says he’ll provide more support. But the time is over for warm words and promises.”
The chemicals used to make Spice are much stronger than cannabis and can cause terrifying symptoms such as hallucinations.
It is called the zombie drug because it can be extremely difficult for users to coordinate their movements or concentrate.
Smokers can have blackouts, vomiting and psychotic episodes.
Last year a man high on Spice attacked a woman with green hair – thinking she was a Jedi knight.
Last July searches uncovered 5kg of Spice.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: “Putting vulnerable people with a history of misusing drugs behind bars won’t help them get clean.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, added: “The best way to reduce the supply of drugs into prisons is to reduce the demand for them.
“This means ensuring that prisoners are occupied with work, education, training and exercise.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “More staff, new body scanners, extra sniffer dogs and a dedicated drug search team have been introduced at Holme House, which has already seen a drop in the level of drugs.”
By Alan SelbyStian Alexander | Mirrow
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