Belfast Telegraph

‘Lives in danger’ as contract blow forces Derry drug support group to close

By Donna Deeney

A man who helped set up a drug support group after the death of his son from substance abuse has warned that the loss of a key contract will put lives at risk.

Martin Connelly founded Londonderry-based Divert in 1999, but it is now set to close after the Lisburn group Ascert won a £200,000 contract from the Public Health Agency (PHA).

Ascert CEO Gary McMichael, a former loyalist politician, said his group would continue to support people in Derry over the phone and through a satellite office that is set to open in a few months.

But Mr Connelly countered that the loss of frontline services in Derry in the evenings and weekends would put lives at risk.

He said: “We have a city that is being ripped open by substance abuse, and the lifeline offered by Divert has been lost to us.

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“I, along with a group of young people and community workers, set up Divert after my son Martin lost his life through substance abuse. It was later taken over by Dove House, and has helped hundreds if not thousands of people.

“I cannot see how an organisation based in Lisburn will be able to offer the same service to the people of Derry, and I am sickened that everything seems to come down to whoever is the cheapest.

“Health projects all over the six counties are suffering. The people sitting in Stormont need to realise our future generations are suffering because the right services are not available to them.”

Divert was among the organisations which applied to the PHA for the substance abuse services contract won by Ascert.

But despite the fears, Ascert CEO Mr McMichael said his group was already helping people from across the Western Trust area.

He said: “Last year, over 640 young people and 200 families from the Western Trust area were supported through our services. If a parent contacts our service, we will speak to them over the phone and try to deal with whatever issues there are there and then.

“We will schedule an appointment for them to come in and the young people to be seen as quickly as possible at a venue near them.

“We work primarily as an outreach service, and we can see them in the evening or the weekend.”

The PHA said it had adhered to guidelines in awarding the contract. A spokeswoman added: “In line with the Northern Ireland Public Procurement Policy, in 2014 the PHA issued a number of tenders for the provision of a range of treatment and support services.

“All tenders received were evaluated against the selection and award criteria, and contracts were awarded to the providers that achieved the highest score.

“The PHA focused on ensuring that high-quality services were established across the region, and it is content that contracts were awarded fairly.”

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