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.
"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.
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.
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.