Northlands expansion plans ‘a beacon of hope’ say Derry & Strabane reps

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A joint motion calling for the Department of Health to support Northlands Centre’s plans for a new Centre of Excellence Addiction Treatment Centre and deliver a beacon of hope for families facing addiction, has passed with unanimous cross-party support.

Council’s Health and Community Committee joined forces to put their weight behind the Northlands Centre’s call on the DoH to work with urgency to provide the business case to the UK Treasury.

SDLP councillor Brian Tierney brought the proposal forward, after party group leaders attended a meeting at the Northlands centre, on behalf of all parties and independents.

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He said: “A Westminster debate on the New Decade, New Approach commitments to the Derry addiction centre was brought by SDLP Foyle MP Colum Eastwood and during the debate the valuable work of Northlands was outlined.

The Northlands Centre, Derry.The Northlands Centre, Derry.
The Northlands Centre, Derry.

“The government minister Steve Baker said during the debate that the government was firmly committed, steadfastly committed to providing the £1M funding.

“Mr Baker described Northlands as a very valued service and said it seemed a sensible approach to use Northlands to deliver what is required. He continued that this money needs to get into Northlands and deliver against the New Decade, New Approach commitments.

“A recent written answer in Westminster tabled on behalf of Northlands, Mr Baker confirmed the ‘UK government stands ready to provide £1M funding to support the Derry/Londonderry addiction centre… and we are currently awaiting the NI Executive’s proposals for delivering the centre’.”

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“Just before the collapse of the Executive, the former Minister for Health, Robin Swann, answered a number of questions on the New Decade, New Approach commitments and in summary the former minister advised that following discussions with the NIO, Department for Health officials along with the Public Health Agency and the Strategic Planning and Performance Group have been looking at development proposals for the allocation of funding under this commitment by carrying out a population based needs based assessment of substance use and related services in the Western Health and Social Care Trust area, and a review of in patient Tier 4 services across the North is also being commissioned.

“Northlands is already providing excellent treatment to people across the North, however, the independently run centre was never purpose built and for over 10 years they have had shovel ready plans for a new centre of excellence to support people and their families right across the North.”

He added: “The latest NISRA statistics make frightening reading as they show that 350 alcohol specific deaths were registered last year, so on average every day in the North last year and the year before someone died because of the way they misuse alcohol.

“Tommy Canning from the Head of Treatment at Northlands Centre put it like this – if someone was dying every day as a result of the Troubles or on our roads there would rightly be an outcry but alcohol specific deaths are hardly registering with the public at large.”

“It is my firm belief that this council should do all it can to help Northlands to help people across the North but more specifically across our district.”

Seconding the proposal, Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson added:

“There’s countless people living within our communities that need help to overcome addictions.

"Sadly we can all think of so many friends and family that have died waiting for addiction help. These are invaluable services and the need to increase to meet demand is paramount.”

“Northlands did request we had a multi-party motion that is brought to council to show the strength of feeling right across the council district and right across the political sphere. Everybody recognises the need for increased addiction services and the work that Northlands and other organisations carry out. Northlands have plans here to step forward and meet the need and provide a positive future for people who are struggling with addiction in our city and district.”

Offering his support, Aontu councillor Emmet Doyle said: “This is a life-saving provision within this city and district and no right-minded person on this council or outside it who doesn’t think it is absolutely necessary and essential for us to move forward.

“We have all been involved with families and individuals with addiction problems and who need support and that comes in many different forms and the Northlands is the first port of call for many.”

Speaking from personal experience after a family member received help from Northlands, UUP Alderman Darren Guy said: “I believe the lived life experience of staff has added to the success of Northlands over the years. The help and assistance they gave a family member and also the family members of that person affected through addiction was excellent and we are very thankful.”

Although supporting the motion, Independent councillor Paul Gallagher was a little sceptical.

“I know it’s in the New Decade, New Approach but I wouldn’t have much faith in a lot of stuff that’s in that document getting delivered,” he said. “I do think we should all, as a council, put as much pressure on central government as possible to ensure these plans are met.”

Describing Northlands as ‘amazing at what they do’, Alliance councillor Rachael Ferguson added: “The work they do in this city and district just goes beyond comparison so I want to show my full support.”

Stating it would not ‘be acceptable’ for the expansion plans to sit on the shelf, People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin said: “Hopefully this motion will send the message that we want this moved forward as soon as possible and we aren’t going to let the issue of the Northlands disappear.

“We very much value the work of the Northlands Centre who carry out life-saving work. It’s a service we desperately need in our city and district and it is an organisation we should be nurturing and helping to expand so it can provide the best possible services available.”

Adding the DUP’s support, Alderman Maurice Devenney spoke of the professional care people receive at Northlands before Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly concluded the discussion saying: “Addiction crosses all classes, creeds and religions, it’s the same grief and torment, not only for those affected but for their families as well.”

The motion passed unanimously.

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter