Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 15:09 GMT


Inmates' health rights 'violated'

Nurses said inmates are denied prescription drugs

Some prisons are not giving inmates the health care they need and may be violating their human rights, a nurses' conference heard on Tuesday.

Nursing 99
During a debate on prison health care, nurses said some inmates were being denied prescription drugs they had received before going into prison, including methadone.

"It is nothing less than torture," said Sue Haworth, a nurse from London.

She added that she had heard one prison officer declare an inmate's Aids status in front of other prisoners in breach of their right to confidentiality.

"It is vital to improve officers' education about confidentiality," she said.

She added that the need for prisoners to have the same access to healthcare as everyone else was particularly vital, given the links between social exclusion and crime.

The debate comes as the NHS Executive and prison service prepare to issue a report on the future of healthcare in prison.

Opposing philosophies

Tracey McFall from Greater Glasgow said there were two opposing philosophies about healthcare in prisons.

One was the traditional view that healthcare was secondary to punishing the prisoner; the other said healthcare needs were important for all people.

She acknowledged that prisoners could be challenging and manipulative.

But she said she had seen a prisoner being forcibly detoxified. He had been put on observation for suicide risk and the only nursing care he was given was water to prevent him dehydrating.

Another prisoner who complained of a bad back was told to turn around and walk towards the door.

"The doctor then told him to keep walking," she said.

James Elder-Ennis of the RCN prison nurses' group said health care provision in prisons varied widely.

Wormwood Scrubbs, for instance, had a kidney dialysis service.

He believes it would be better to ensure prison officers were given proper resources to provide healthcare than for inmates to be offloaded onto the NHS.

"There are enough problems in the NHS without adding another 60,000 people overnight," he said.

Draft report

The Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, Sir David Ramsbotham, recommended in 1996 that the responsibility for providing healthcare to prisoners should move from the prison service to the NHS.

A working group from the prison service and the NHS Executive has been set up by the Home Secretary and the Health Secretary to consider how to improve inmates' health.

A draft report has been produced and is out for consultation in the next few weeks.

Scotland already has a health centre, managed by a qualified nurse, in every prison.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

09 Mar 99 | Health
Nursing '99: Special report

09 Feb 99 | Health
Prison doctor struck off over inmates' deaths

07 Dec 98 | Health
Britain's world first in prison medicine

28 Oct 98 | Health
Prison health care 'failing'

Internet Links

Royal College of Nursing

Department of Health

Home Office

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99