Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust have enlisted the help of Coco the dog to prevent patients, staff and visitors at its sites across the region being affected by the use and selling of illegal drugs.
The 15 month old Cocker Spaniel has been trained to search out illegal drugs in buildings and in the grounds across the Trust’s properties.
She will be assisted by John McCarroll a former Northumbria Police narcotics search dog handler and trainer who has served over 20 years with the police force and also 10 years in the prison service.
Both dog and handler have been trained in partnership with Northumbria Police and Coco has been licensed by the Home Office to carry out searches for illegal drugs.
The scheme was inspired by the work of the South London and St George’s Mental Health Trust who have been using their own Trust Search Dog to help reduce incidents of antisocial behaviour.
Although this service originated in London, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust is the only other trust in the country to operate this form of drug detection and prevention scheme.
Coco’s appointment will help support the Trust’s work with NHS Protect which provides a clear strategy for the management of security and the protection of its staff, patients, assets and the wider community.
The Trust enjoys an excellent working relationship with Northumbria Police but if staff suspected any kind of drug misuse in the past it would have taken up to two weeks to arrange a search.
By having a dedicated dog handler and dog based at the Trust’s St Nicholas Hospital, Coco and John can react to any suspicions quickly and confidentially to meet the needs of the ward and department managers.
The Trust’s Director of Nursing and Operations Gary O’Hare was delighted by this new unusual appointment. He said: “Coco and John have been an excellent addition to our staff teams and have already made a massive difference to the way we deal with the problem of illegal drug misuse across our services.
“The safety of our patients and staff is our main priority and this scheme will ensure we can continue to offer a safe and supportive environment for those receiving treatment, whilst giving people the confidence to report anything they find suspicious either in our buildings or anywhere in our grounds.”
Sgt Steve Foster, from Northumbria Police’s Dog Training Unit, said: “Coco was originally going to be a working field trails dog.
“However, due to the hard work put in by one of the Dog Training Unit’s instructors, she adapted to the change to search inside buildings instead. And for such a young dog, she carried out searches to an excellent standard during her initial training with us.
“Her skills will further develop as her training sessions continue with her new dog handler.
“I’m sure she’ll be an asset to the NHS Foundation Trust and will no doubt help staff in their aim of creating a safe environment for all who use their services.”
Coco’s skills will further develop as her training sessions continue with John which will also include her work in the Trust’s Older Persons and Children’s wards as a pets for therapy.