A Day in Glasgow: Meeting with NHS Scotland

We all started the day off early by taking a train from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city with a population of approximately 1.6 million people. People in Glasgow speak with a very distinct Scottish brogue, so we really had to pay attention. Once at the train station in Glasgow, we had a quick walk to a bus stop to make our way to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Here we met with several members of NHS Scotland where they provided an overview of Scotland’s public health challenges, prevention and treatment programs for HIV, harm reduction programs for intravenous drug users, a brief overview of the health care system in Scotland, and general care/advocacy priorities throughout Scotland. 

Currently one of Scotland’s greatest health challenges is drug addiction; where approximately 60,000 Scottish citizens face drug related issues. Many involve heroin and cocaine which cause major issues for those taking these drugs intravenously. The majority of HIV cases are caused by sexual contact, but there’s also a portion related to sharing needles. In order to combat this issue, Scotland implemented needle exchange programs and safe consumption rooms so those who partake in drugs have lower risks of facing secondary issues. For instance, many people take these drugs in hidden places which tend to be unsanitary and also tend to reuse needles, thus causing greater risk of injecting unwanted disease and bacteria. These programs are meant to lower these risks and enforce safer practices of drug consumption in order to continue living with less complications for these individuals. Although this intervention is something that has been very controversial in the U.S., Scotland has prioritized this initiative as it helps people who use drugs to live longer and supports the creation of a healthier community. 

Our time here with NHS Scotland showed us that one of the hot topics of public health everywhere is the issue of harm reduction. Both in Scotland and in the U.S., politics and healthcare often clash. While policymakers and public health workers agree on the fact that drug use in communities is a problem, the way these two groups deal with that problem differs. For many public health workers, the goal may not be to completely stop drug use, especially because reaching that goal in the near future is unlikely. Rather, the goal is instead to reduce the negative impacts of existing drug use as much as possible and prevent the issue from increasing. On the political end, laws against drug use may stop drug use in certain contexts but in others create some prominent barriers preventing people from seeking care or at least support.Our job as community advocates is to work toward solutions that work for as many people as possible. Even if we don’t morally agree with certain interventions, we still have a responsibility to make health attainable for that person no matter how much time and resources it takes. Will it be simple or easy? No, as we learned from NHS Scotland. But we can keep trying, and we can keep learning – on both sides. 

We also learned of HIV testing, treatment and care programs in Scotland. Just like in the U.S., there are many challenges still faced. But, unlike the U.S., Scotland is well on the way to meeting its 95/95/95 goals by 2030. 

We all walked away feeling this was one of the best visits in Scotland and wished we could have met with these public health professionals earlier in our trip. There are many takeaways and lessons learned that could be used to improve public health programs in the U.S. With more time, we could have learned so much more about how programs are designed and implemented in Scotland and what might work in the U.S.

After lunch, we went on a walking tour through the West End of Glasgow, including the famous Ashton Lane, before heading to the University of Glasgow. The campus was absolutely beautiful, culturally rich and historically significant. Some significant sites we came across included the James McCune Smith Learning Hub, named after the first African American to earn a medical degree. We also visited the prior residence of Sir William Thomson, Baron Kelvin, famous physicist, who introduced the absolute temperature scale, now known as the Kelvin scale in his honor. We also walked past the Sir James Black building, named after the Nobel Laureate himself. We also learned that Albert Einstein visited the university in 1933 to receive an honorary doctorate and gave a lecture about his theory of relativity. These were just some of the highlights from the University of Glasgow campus. It was blooming with beautiful spring flowers and greenery everywhere, serving as a great backdrop for our pictures. 

Here are some of the sights from the walking tour!

A statue of William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin. One of his most fundamental scientific contributions was creating the system of absolute temperature, though he was responsible for many more contributions.

Beautiful medieval-style architecture from the Victorian Era done at the historic University of Glasgow. Very Harry Potter-esque!

We ended our walking tour at the Botanical Gardens, after which we took the bus to Café Anti Pasti for our farewell dinner. Although we were sad to leave, we were able to enjoy one last group dinner before we departed. Some of the highlights included playing a game of trivia that revolved around what we had learned on our trip, UAB prizes, and lots of laughs with friends.

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