Kaleidoscope and the Welsh Conservative Conference 2023


The compelling case for compassion - The Welsh Conservative Conference

Problematic substance use is a political matter as it impacts so many in society either directly or indirectly.  Thankfully in Wales it is not a party-political matter, as the four Senedd parties all consider substance use as fundamentally a health issue rather than a criminal justice one.

Kaleidoscope is not affiliated to any political party, but we are an organisation that believes in campaigning for the way people who take drugs are seen and supported by political parties. After visiting the Plaid Cymru party conference last Autumn, we decided to visit the Welsh Conservative party conference in April and will be with Welsh Labour in the Spring.

In attending in April we used this occasion to launch our cross-party campaign for the ‘right to treatment for problematic substance use’ in Wales.

What was our experience of attending the Conservative conference and how open to change were the delegates we saw?

To the surprise of many, we were received in a universally positive way.

We were pleased to have the opportunity to talk with Senedd Members, MPs and Councillors as well as grass roots party members about our campaign, which includes:

  • The right to the treatment of choice for service users (assuming it is deemed medically suitable)
  • The right to rapid access to prescriptions of substitute substances for all service users (not just those involved with the criminal justice system as is currently the case)
  • The right for homeless people to have access to licensed spaces in which to inject their drugs, dispose of drug litter, and receive advice and support
  • A recognition that abstinence is not the only or ultimate form of stability or recovery for people with problematic substance use

We were delighted by the warmth of the reception we received, and some highlights included:

  • Speaking with the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt MP, who spent time learning about the transformative impact of the opiate substitute drug Buvidal in Wales and why this is an important drug in treating people
  • Speaking with James Evans MS, the Welsh Conservative spokesperson on Substance Use and Mental Health for Wales who has been a huge support for reform of drug policy in the UK, as well as ensuring that people who have problematic substance use issues have the best access possible to services.
  • James talked passionately about a range of harm reduction interventions including Naloxone, needle syringe exchanges, and supervised drug consumption facilities. He is committed to welcoming the Transform Overdose Prevention Ambulance to his constituency to further the public debate about Enhanced Harm Reduction practices.
  • Some of the local councillors received impromptu training from Peer educator Vinnie Condron of delegates in how use the lifesaving overdose reversal drug Naloxone. The delegates really enjoyed the experience, and it was particularly positive to see the Conservative Group Leader in Monmouthshire, Richard John, taking on the challenge.
  • Vinnie met with Tom Tugendhat MP, the Minister for Security and discussed with him the importance of peers in drug work and how such work has changed him and has had a unique impact. It was a signature moment of the event when the Minister shook our Peer worker Vinnie’s hand and thanked him and the whole of Kaleidoscope for our work in this field.
  • We spent time with Welsh Secretary David Davies MP, who kindly facilitated a number of meetings with senior party officials including the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

One of the interesting debates we engaged delegates on was the issue of discarded needles and what we may be able to do about this. We explained how it was painful for me to give a needle syringe to a homeless person, knowing they could only consume their drugs in either a public toilet or in a public space.

We explained that we would love to at least help this group of people by offering them a safe place to take their drugs which would reduce drug litter and also reduce the stigma drug users have because of their drug use in public spaces causing such upset. Every delegate we spoke to supported a licensed and safe place for such a group to inject their drugs, ideally in the place they were given their clean needles and syringes.

We were really fortunate to speak to people who were so open about their family members who had difficulty with drugs and alcohol. They spoke with huge compassion for their loved ones and simply wanted their loved ones to have access to the best possible options to help them live full lives once more. It reminded me how drugs and alcohol impacts on everybody.

Andrew RT Davies the leader of the Conservatives came to say hello and he has been supportive in the past, having been present at the opening of our service in Pontypridd. He generously committed to been interviewed by our very own Cullan Mais on his Central Club podcast about mental health issues

A key phrase heard over and over again from event attendees was that we made a ‘compelling case’ for compassionate change with our ‘right to treatment’ campaign.