Sunday, November 11, 2012

NHS's first sniffer dog cuts illegal drugs and violence on wards

A loud snuffling sound precedes Paddy as he lopes down the corridor, greedily hoovering up every available scent. Picture frames, drawers & cupboards - inside and out, desks - above and below, nothing escapes olfactory interrogation as Paddy scours the room for contraband; tail wagging furiously all the while. But this energetic springer spaniel isn't from the police; he is the NHS's first and only drugs sniffer dog. Formerly part of the Met's Marine Dog Unit, Paddy was trained from a puppy to track down illegal drugs, guns and money for the police.

But after a clash of personalities with a kennel mate, he was moved two years ago to take up his unique position in the NHS workforce at the South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust. And two years on, the Trust claims the experiment has proved to be a success, with the number of drug finds dropping by two thirds since he began patrolling the wards in May 2010. Operating across several hospital sites in South West London the Trust offers in-patient treatment for a broad range of mental health disorders. And, as in any mental health trust ,there is an ever-present problem of illegal drug use.

This is particularly problematic when you are trying to treat mental illness, explains Chris O'Connor, Head of Nursing Practice at the trust. "We know that patients who take illegal drugs don't recover as quickly and our aim is to get patients back into the community as quickly as possible." He adds "Someone like Paddy can help because he will help find those drugs, and also maybe identify patients that we didn't know had a drug problem, so we can then work that into their treatment plan." Because of the negative impact illegal drugs may have on recovery, their use is specifically prohibited in patients' treatment plans.

YouTube link.

Before Paddy arrived at the trust, nursing staff would have to search the wards & patients' belongings themselves. But this was time consuming, taking staff away from their therapeutic duties, says Paddy's handler Julie Traynor. Paddy can perform the same job "in a matter of minutes".  And she adds that it's a less invasive way of performing a necessary task. "The patients get to know him, they welcome us when he comes onto the wards, they know his name, they take no notice of me, they are all interested in saying 'Hi' to Paddy. We are seen to be doing a routine search, this is just part of how this trust manages its security issues."

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