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New prisoners 'should be tested for blood infections'

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It is unknown how many prisoners have infections It is unknown how many prisoners may have blood infections like HIV and hepatitis

New prisoners could be tested for hepatitis and HIV as they enter jail, according to newly drafted guidance from NICE.

The draft quality standard says healthcare staff working in prisons should offer testing for blood-borne viruses like hepatitis B and C, and HIV to people upon entry to prison and inmates should be assessed on their risk of having a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

A report by the Chief Medical Officer in 2012 found 14% of people in prison have hepatitis C compared with 3% of the general population.

Despite this, an audit carried out by the Health Protection Agency’s Prison Infection Prevention team in 2012 reported only 62% of English prisons had a hepatitis C testing policy.

Deputy chief executive for NICE Professor Gillian Leng said: ‘Prison is a restrictive environment, which can make it a challenge when it comes to providing healthcare. However, the prison reception can also offer us an opportunity to reach people who have a higher risk of illness and may otherwise slip through the cracks.’

There are no direct estimates for the prevalence of STIs in English prisons. Tests at HMP Wormwood Scrubs in Shepherd’s Bush, London, found 12% of their inmates tested positive for chlamydia between 2011 and 2013.

However, the test may be unreliable as only 124 people chose to be tested out of the 1,133 entering the prison, meaning the figure could in reality be much higher.

‘Identifying people who are entering prison with an infection will mean staff can provide the right treatment as quickly as possible. This will not only mean better care for the person who is infected, but it will also reduce the chances of them passing it on to their fellow inmates and to the wider population when they leave prison,’ Professor Leng said.

Consultation on the draft standard will run until 9 May and it is expected to be properly published in September.

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