Today it’s office drug tests. Tomorrow you’re sacked for having a fag

The police are going to start drug-testing at work - but what's next?
  • @johnhenrywalsh

In the operating theatre, the appendectomy patient lies under a sheet, ready for the cold steel.

The surgeon has scrubbed up, put on gloves and adjusted his mask. Housemen, nurses and anaesthetists stand by. “Scalpel,” he mutters to the sister. “Swab. Forceps…” But as he makes the first incision, the doors burst open…

At the Norman Carpet secondary school, Jerry the chemistry teacher has settled noisy charges into a semblance of attention. He lights a Bunsen burner, pours hydrogen and sulphur into a test tube and hovers it over the flame. “Watch closely,” he says, “This could be exciting...” Even as he speaks, the lab doors slam open. “All right, son,” grates the sergeant, “turn aht yer pockets…”

Or it’s Court No 1 at the Old Bailey as the defendant falteringly recites his alibi. The prosecuting barrister raises a hand. “I put it to you, Mr Nobbington,” he grates, “that your evidence is a tissue of lies, and....” Through the door bursts a platoon of police. “Random drug test!” they cry. “Roll up your sleeves!”

Perhaps I exaggerate the nature of the drug inspections that will become commonplace in the UK if the Met’s Police Commissioner has his way. But it’s worrying, isn’t it? Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said action was needed “to discourage the demand for illegal substances”. He said millions of professionals should be tested from “all occupations” but especially teachers, intensive care nurses and transport staff.

It seems rather mean of the commissioner to target “professionals”, as if the middle classes are more likely than anyone else to skin up and shoot up (and who knew that intensive-care nurses are such a junky throng?). But I think we feel a basic revulsion about the casual premise that the police can lean on employers and insist they impose random tests on their workforces.

Hogan-Howe told MPs that anyone who failed a drug test would be “offered help to stop” by their employers and, if they refused, would suffer “consequences” – that is, would be fired. But it’s a basic infringement of your civil liberties if your bosses run medical tests on you without your request or permission. And if your bosses find your lungs are full of tar and your liver damaged by Lagavulin, how soon will it be before you’ll be “offered help to stop” with the smokes and the Scotch as well?

It is simply not conducive to boss-staff relations to poke about in the lives of employees unless their work is actually sub-standard. It’s an impertinence, an unethical intrusion, a counter-productive source of employee fury and a bloody cheek.

Not drinking but giving

“You’ve got to have respect for money,” 28-year-old Tamara Ecclestone told Heat magazine last May. “My dad worked so hard for everything he had, and he and my mum come from very humble beginnings.” She showed a lot of respect for the folding stuff this week, blowing £30,676 on drinks in one evening at the Aura nightclub in London’s Mayfair. It was, since you ask, mostly Cristal champagne (£465 a bottle, £5,000 a jeroboam) plus some Grey Goose vodka. You have to admire that level of devotion to posh bubbly – except that drinking it wasn’t the point.

Reportedly, she was driven to ordering drinks for the whole club after the warbler Trey Songz showed up and seemed likely to steal her thunder. She even sent out a bottle to the assembled paparazzi. Thirty grand just to say, “Oi! – notice me”. Respect indeed.

Twitter: @JohnHenryWalsh