A MOBILE van will distribute needles and provide healthcare out of hours to the city centre's drug injecting community in a bid to tackle Glasgow's HIV outbreak.

The vehicle will operate from January thanks to a partnership between NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Turning Point, and it will have a nurse and social care worker on board to provide a range of services to help some of the city's most vulnerable who are experiencing drug addiction.

The move comes after Scotland's busiest needle exchange service in Glasgow's Central Station closed in 2017. At the time, Network Rail, who own the building, said it was forced to take action after drug-taking equipment was found in public areas. The needle exchange service at the transport hub had only opened a year earlier in July 2016 following a spike in the number of HIV cases in the city.

The closure meant that the only out-of-hours service available for Glasgow's drug injecting community is Turning Point's centre in Tradeston.

Now the mobile van will visit known city centre hotspots for drug consumption to offer services including needle exchange, testing for blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C and wound care. Staff will also signpost people to services which can help them with their addiction.

Patricia Tracey, who is a service manager at Turning Point, said: "Glasgow city centre is where the HIV outbreak is and there is also an issue in the city with public injecting.

"We will be able to target that group who do not engage very well with services. It is about taking the service to them.

"Often people will go to services but this group are chaotic and this is the same group we have been trying to get the supervised drug consumption rooms for.

"Because we don’t have that, it is about trying to get something else to encourage them.

"If we can build up trust on the mobile service, we might be able to encourage people to go into services as well and to get help."

A spokeswoman for Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board (NHSGCC) said: "Last year, the service which provided injecting equipment provision (IEP) in Central Station was forced to close, leaving a significant gap in access to clean injecting equipment in evenings and at weekends.

"Since the closure, we have been working with Turning Point Scotland to plug this gap in out of hours provision and are delighted that this new service will be in place from January. There will also be a nurse on board who can offer advice on safer injecting and other health issues as well as testing for blood borne viruses."

She added: "As part of a multi targeted approach NHSGGC has also introduced other initiatives including a nurse led service “on the street” delivering care out with standard NHS facilities, treatment of other injection-related physical health issues in the community and the provision of HIV treatment from a community pharmacy alongside their opiate replacement script."

The service will operate seven days a week from 6pm to 10pm, and the move is one which has been welcomed by Glasgow MSP Annie Wells.

She said: “Following the outbreak of HIV in Glasgow, it’s extremely welcome that service users will be able to able to get tested for HIV and Hepatitis as well as receive treatment for injuries relating to drug injections.

“The removal of the needle exchange at Glasgow Central Station has been a major factor for the HIV outbreak, so a mobile and accessible service, which is hopefully available 24 hours a day, is a step in the right direction.

“Significantly the presence of a Turning Point worker will mean that services users can be signposted towards longer term treatment.

“We must continue to work towards long-term solutions that ultimately bring down the number of drug deaths and reduce the HIV outbreak.”

We previously reported that Glasgow City Council and the health board wanted a drug consumption facility where drug users can inject under supervised conditions with sterile needles.

International evidence for similar facilities has shown a drop in fatal overdoses as well as a reduction in the amount of needles and drug taking equipment left lying around public places.

The call was also made by the local authority and health board to tackle rising rates of HIV and Hepatitis C among the drug injecting population, especially those taking drugs outdoors.

The Home Office however, won’t allow the council the exemption to drugs laws needed to open the centre.