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Public health minister resigns over drug deaths

Matt Beech/Holyrood

Public health minister resigns over drug deaths

Joe FitzPatrick has resigned as public health minister following the release of drug death figures showing they had risen to record levels.

Angela Constance is being brought back into government as the new minister for drugs policy, separating this area out from the rest of the public health portfolio.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she will confirm the new public health minister soon.

Tendering his resignation, FitzPatrick said that continuing in the role would become a “distraction” from the conversation that needs to be had around drug policy.

He said: “I have worked with families who have felt the burden and weight of grief from drug use. I want to thank them for their candour and the amazing efforts they make to try and make our country better and safer for all.

“As the minister responsible for this area I ultimately take my responsibility. It is clear that my presence as a minister will become a distraction, when we should be focused on achieving the change we need to save lives.”

The figures published earlier this week showed drug-related deaths in Scotland increased by six per cent to 1,264 in 2019, compared to 1,187 in 2018. This is 3.5 times higher than in the rest of the UK.

Sturgeon apologised for the deaths at First Minister’s Questions yesterday and, when faced with calls to sack FitzPatrick, said: “I’m going to work with the drugs minister to make sure we collectively accept this responsibility and take the actions that are required to fix the problem.”

She did not reference FitzPatrick by name.

Responding to his resignation, the First Minister said: “While the time has now come to make a change in the public health brief, no one should doubt Joe’s hard work, dedication and sincerity.  He will continue to champion the interests of his constituents at Holyrood, and I wish him well in the future.”

FitzPatrick has been in government since 2012, first as minister for parliamentary business and then as public health minister since June 2018.

Scottish Labour had today tabled a motion of no confidence in him, backed by the Lib Dems.

Monica Lennon MSP, who lodged that motion, said: “It is right that Joe FitzPatrick has resigned. Having been neglected for too long, Scotland’s drug deaths emergency must now be given the full attention of the Scottish Government. Urgent funding is needed to boost access to treatment and residential rehab.”

The Scottish Conservatives meanwhile have said the resignation “changes nothing” and also called for extra funding for rehab services. Leader Douglas Ross said: "After 13 years of failure, no one can have any confidence in Nicola Sturgeon's disastrous drugs strategy and the resignation of her public health minister changes nothing.”

Constance has previously served in government in numerous roles, including most recently as Communities and Social Security Secretary. She resigned from that role amid a wider ministerial reshuffle in 2018.

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