Nurses are ‘increasingly vital’ in prisons as some services are turning to inexperienced volunteers in order to plug staffing shortages.
An appeal was launched in April by Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Trust asking family doctors, practice nurses and nurse practitioners to volunteer their time to help services at HMP Garth and neighbouring HMP Wymott, Lancashire.
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The campaign was started because the ‘risks are very significant’ to the health service in the two prisons, according to a letter seen by GP magazine Pulse.
‘Nursing staff play an increasingly vital role in the justice system,’ said Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). ‘They keep prisoners safe and well, supporting both their mental and physical health and improving their chances of rehabilitation.
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‘However, as the RCN has warned, prisons are overpopulated and this causing chaos for prisoners and staff alike. Health care staff are at risk just by turning up to work – we’ve seen examples of nurses being attacked, abused and even held hostage – and as a result more and more nurses are looking to alternative roles.
‘Prisons just don’t have the staff they need to keep prisoners or staff safe. The Ministry of Justice needs to address these shortages if prison health services are to be at all effective.’
The RCN also said that mental health is a ‘critical issue’ in prisons. Nursing support is ‘essential to preventing problems from spiralling out of control,’ according to Ms Preston.
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According to the Bridgewater Trust, services at the prisons are ‘in a very fragile state’ as both the numbers and experience of its clinical staff are low compared to the complexity of demand from prisoners. However, they described the appeal as a ‘short term solution’.
Dr David Barrett, an offender health GP from the Midlands, told the Telegraph that he is ‘overwhelmed’ with emails and texts from prisons and locum agencies with empty rota slots to fill. He said he avoids much prison work due to ‘personal risk’.