A councillor campaigning for White Oaks to be used as a publicly funded cross-border detox facility has heaped criticism on the response of governments north and south.
Derry-Strabane Councillor Dee Quigley said the two governments appeared to be “hanging us out to dry” by not taking action despite a succession of tragedies and the prevalence of addiction problems in Derry and the wider north west.
“It is a double slap in the face,” he said. “A slap in the face from the politicians in the north and a slap in the face from the politicians in the south. We have nowhere else to turn,”
“It is very frustrating considering the views of the 50,000 people who physically signed a petition for a detox centre and the 11,000 or so who signed online,” he added.
“Given this, and the strength of feeling that is currently in the town and region,I think that the politicians both north and south of the border have shot themselves in the foot by their lack of willingness to even explore this idea. It is extremely unfortunate that medical card holders in the south can access this service for free but if you try from the north you have to pay.”
Colr. Quigley questioned why the two governments were able to provide cross-border services for cancer patients at Altnagelvin and paediatric care for children from the north in Dublin, but seemed reluctant to do anything about the mental health and addiction issue.
Some people feel the bridge is their last resort.Dee Quigley
“There are people that are crying out for help but unlike these other services, which are seen as the fruits of the Good Friday Agreement, they cannot get the help they need.”
Health Ministers on both sides of the border have now responded to the campaign for White Oaks on the Muff side of the border to be used a cross-border Detox Centre.
Sinn Fein Donegal Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn had asked Minister for Health Leo Varadkar if he will raise the need for cross-border funding of the White Oaks Addiction Treatment Centre with his northern counterpart, Minister Jim Wells MLA “to ensure that persons seeking to recover from addictions and living in the North West cross border region can avail of the services of this widely respected centre”. In his reply Mr Varadkar said: “The White Oaks Addiction Treatment Centre has a service level agreement with the Health Service Executive to provide residential treatment and after-care services for adult medical card holders affected by addiction from Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim and West Cavan.
“It is ultimately a matter for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland to commission services for people affected by substance misuse who are resident in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Varadkar added: “However, I understand that Northern Ireland residents affected by problem substance misuse can avail of residential treatment in White Oaks on a private basis, but must pay for services provided.”
Northern Ireland Health Minister Jim Wells meanwhile said that in areas such as alcohol and drug misuse, he was “happy to discuss and take forward joint action with our counterparts in the Republic of Ireland”.
While not ruling out jointly commissioned services in some time in the future, he added however that he Health and Social Care Board had recently completed a review of inpatient alcohol and drugs services across Northern Ireland and is now in the process of putting in place a new regional network.
“Any move to consider a new service provider, such as White Oaks, at this stage would impact on the budget and sustainability of the services currently being commissioned”, he added.
Mr Quigley said the issue needed dealt with as a matter of urgency:
“I would say let’s get the two governments round the table and look at this issue for what it is- a life or death issue. This has to be sitting higher up on the agenda for our politicians, because if it is not there then you might as well rip up the Good Friday Agreement.
“Some people feel the bridge is their last resort and that is not a normal society that we are living in.”