THE UK Government has come under fire as it emerged that the minister who convened its UK drug summit left half way through his own event without hearing key evidence from internationally renowned drug experts or from Irish and Welsh ministers.

Kit Malthouse, the UK Minister for Crime and Policing, announced plans for a UK-wide summit last October at which Dame Carol Black would provide an update on her review of drugs, which is due to report later this year.

His announcement came months after calls for a summit made by the Scottish Government last July, following figures that showed 1187 had died of drug overdoses.

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The Scottish Government then decided to hold its event, which it said focused on people’s experiences of addiction, the day before the UK one. Some were critical of the approach.

As a key part of the UK event Kit Malthouse was due to meet with Scottish, Irish and Welsh health ministers after all the evidence had been heard to agree actions. Instead, Malthouse changed plans, announcing to the media that he believed the Scottish Government’s call for safer injecting facilities was “a distraction” before rearranging the meeting as a briefing before the conference.

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It is understood he then left the conference, which started at 10.30am, just after 1pm. Though he heard from Joe FitzPatrick, Scottish Minister for Public Health, he left before evidence from other UK health ministers was given. Afternoon sessions the UK minister missed included a presentation by Dr Ed Day, the Home Office’s “recovery champion”, a panel discussion with a line-up including leading experts on addiction, a GP from the Edinburgh Access Practice dealing with regular drug deaths and Police Scotland. He was not in the audience when testimony from Portugal – where decriminalisation was introduced in 2001 – was presented.

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Jardine Simpson, chief executive of the Scottish Recovery Consortium who was hosting a table discussion at the event, said he was taken aback when he realised Malthouse had left. It said it left him convinced that the UK Government was unable to adapt its approach.

“Mr Malthouse’s response was to leave half-way through the event he convened,” he added. “A wealth of international experts were invited and then ignored. The event was simply an exercise in demonstrating the UK Government is intractable – and in my view irrational – in sticking to its policy approach around addiction.”

“The UK Government is disconnected even from its’ own evidence-base. Dame Carol’s [Black]review was quite clear that treatment wasn’t working, enforcement and prevention of supply was ineffective and resources were being squandered under the present policy approach.”

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An SNP source told the Sunday National the decision to leave early sent out a message that returning to London was “a higher priority than saving Scottish lives. “It beggars belief that Kit Malthouse would vanish early from his own summit,” he said. “He dodged key presentations from, amongst others, a delegation from Portugal who managed to spare the time to detail the measures they adopted to combat the blight of drug abuse.This appalling lack of commitment is a betrayal of grieving and suffering Scots families at the sharp end of this serious issue.”

However others also expressed frustrations with the Scottish Government event, claiming that it failed to address critical issues such as the need to reverse cuts to residential rehab and better invest in services. Others claimed its focus was on Glasgow, rather than Scotland, with too much time given to calls for a safer injecting facilities in the city. An announcement of additional Scottish Government funding of £20m was not made until the following day.

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour spokeswoman on health said the news that Malthouse had left was “very disappointing” and underlined the need for Scotland to work together on finding solutions.

A Home Office spokesman said an unavoidable diary commitment meant he had to leave early. He added: “The Minister takes the issue of drug abuse extremely seriously.”A four nations meeting on the issue will be held in Belfast next month.