DDN December 2022 DDN Dec_2022 | Page 19

Moving on to a panel discussion , conference chair Danny Hames asked , ‘ how do we tackle stigma in the NHS ?’

‘ The separation of drug users needs to be called out ,’ said Kate Hall , who had been involved in a ‘ See the person , hear their story ’ campaign . ‘ We need to lobby from the top . There needs to be
a complete intolerance of how people with addiction issues have been treated over the years .’ Despite the health focus of the Dame Carol Black review , the drug strategy had become very crime focused – a ‘ silo approach ’. ‘ We need to work really collaboratively to make sure we ’ re doing the best we can for people who are facing really marginalising behaviour ,’ she said . ‘ It wouldn ’ t be tolerated in any other healthcare setting .’
Andy Ryan , head of services at Changing Lives , had experienced stigmatising treatment himself , with a hospital doctor telling him ‘ these beds are for people who are really sick , you know ’. While acknowledging that stigma was ‘ an unfortunate offshoot of stresses and pressures of the system ’, he urged everyone to look at education and language . He also highlighted a ‘ systemic problem around teams ’ and called for transparency in tackling stigma
together , including working with employers . We should also help people to understand the causes of addiction , especially the link with trauma , and to explore the potential of psychosocial interventions . ‘ Be curious not critical ,’ he said . ‘ That could really link us together .’
Howard King offered a perspective as MD of a large community trust that included mental health . While disappointed that the drug strategy focused on crime , it was also an opportunity to work with people when they were brought into the criminal justice system – to turn the stigma of being separated from society into a chance to connect them with services . We needed to resist the NHS culture of working in blocks , even though it was ‘ easier to push people off and refer them to someone else ’ and be curious about how we could help them . ‘ We can deal with all these stigmas but not in one go – it ’ s a brick-by-brick approach ,’ concluded Lilley . ‘ As we say in the academy , start with the person and work backwards . It never fails .’
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Get that druggie out of my hospital .’ Tony Mullaney ( now training and development coordinator at Hep C U Later ) described the barriers that disclosing his hepatitis C status had put in front of his healthcare . A hospital had insisted on moving his operation to the end of the day so they could clean everything down . When he had an intravenous line in , nurses wouldn ’ t take it out for him . A dentist wouldn ’ t treat him at the mention of hepatitis C , even when he told the dentist he was antibody positive .

‘ Stigma isolates people , pushes them away , makes them feel they don ’ t belong ,’ he said . Furthermore , it made people with hep
C afraid to disclose their status . People in prison didn ’ t want others to find out – ‘ hep C is whispered about … people won ’ t share a cell .’
At home he felt stigmatised by his own family : ‘ My mum washed my clothes on a hot wash so no one else could catch it .’ Even peers stigmatise each other , he said , as ‘ no one wants to catch it – there ’ s ignorance on how it ’ s spread ’.
So what could we all do to combat hep C stigma ? Louise Hansford , Hep C U Later coordinator , said we needed to ‘ demystify it , talk about it , make it OK for people to have hep C ’.
Much of the stigma related to ignorance
– she described how her friend was antibody positive , but the nurse appeared in full PPE and goggles when she had her baby . She had also had ‘ horrendous experiences ’ herself and believed it was ‘ not through vindictiveness ’. In the past , recovery workers didn ’ t talk about hep C , but now we needed to make it acceptable to have it .
Hep C treatment had transformed her , and to see that replicated in other service users was ‘ phenomenal ’. ‘ No one sets out to be a drug user with hep C ,’ she said . ‘ We need to get back to our core values .’