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'I have panic attacks': Nurses endangered by overcrowded prisons

Nurses are being put in danger by the deteriorating prison service, with some being held hostage or assaulted

Nurses are being put in danger by the deteriorating prison service, according to the president of the Prison Governors Association (PGA).

Andrea Albutt released an open letter criticising reforms to the prison service including the split of operational control of offenders from policy decisions. Government policy has seen the number of prisoners sharing a prison is rising and leading to tensions which put staff safety at risk.

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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) note that there was an 88% rise in assaults of prison staff over the past few years and reports have been made public of nurses being held hostage by irate and aggressive prisoners.

‘These reforms have been catastrophic for both prisoners and staff, including health care teams,’ said RCN lead for criminal justice Ann Norman. ‘Nurses play an essential role in the justice system but their numbers are plummeting.

‘Prisons have become dangerous, overcrowded warehouses, and nursing staff are no longer willing to put their safety at risk. Without the care they need, prisoners’ health and rehabilitation is taking a serious hit.

‘The Ministry of Justice needs to heed the PGA’s warning. Until prisons have the staff they need, the entire prison health care system is at risk of collapse.’

Governments of the last two decades have built 15 new prisons, as well as new house blocks on existing sites, but 25% of prisoners in the system have been sharing cells they shouldn’t for that whole period.

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Mental health was highlighted by the RCN as a particular concern, with were 113 suicides in prison in the year up to March 2017. Demand is being pushed higher by an ageing prison population, with 16% now over 50 years old.

In March, Kent Online reported that a nurse had been blinded in one eye after being punched by a young offender imprisoned in Cookham Wood Young Offenders Institution, Rochester.

Paul Ramsamy, clinical nurse manager at the centre, went to visit the youth with an officer to make sure he had not been harmed while he was restrained on 11 November last year after refusing to return to his cell.

The boy punched Mr Ramsamy in the eye, with CCTV footage from the hallway showing the nurse staggering out of the boy’s cell and getting on all fours clutching his bleeding eye.

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‘I told him several times I was there to look after him. He has blinded me for the rest of my life,’ Mr Ramsamy told the Kent newspaper. ‘I have panic attacks. I have worked in prisons for 17 years and I’ve been in confrontational situations but this has affected me greatly.

‘I honestly don’t know if I will ever be able to go back to work again.’