I’m going to talk today about the idea of using a full name and date of birth for needle programme clients. You see, I think we should use peoples real names. I think there are some very good reasons why we should, and they are mostly for the benefit of the client.
So, as anyone working in needle programmes probably knows it has been traditional to have a fully anonymous service. Different services manage this in different ways, some giving out colour coded key-rings, some assigning a number and others working from initials.
The reasons for this have always been to protect client identity, and a perception that nobody would attend for sterile equipment if they thought they’d have to give a real name.
In most places I’ve worked when an attempt is made to increase the amount of information collected from clients there has been great resistance, but this has never been from the clients. It’s usually staff resistance with comments like “If we start asking those questions no clients will come in.”
Of course we need to get clients to understand that services are still confidential, but that can be done by having robust confidentiality systems. At first presentation you should be explaining to people in what way information is kept, why it’s kept and the limits on how confidential we can be within current UK law (or whatever the local law is to you). You should be doing this for EVERY client you work with anyway.
It’s no good just asking people to start doing robust assessments for needle exchange visitors if they don’t understand the advantages to the service and the clients. Because of this it is important that you get all staff on board with any changes you make before letting them loose on your clients.
If someone doesn’t want to give a name this shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving a service, I’d in no way condone forcing people to give names. My point is more that we shouldn’t avoid using names as this could be even more stigmatising to a group that already gets enough stigma in their lives.