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Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK


Prison health care condemned

Health care at Reading Prison for Young Offenders was condemned

Health care in prisons is not up to scratch and responsibility should be passed as soon as possible to the NHS, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has said.

Sir David Ramsbotham said the current structure for managing health services for inmates was "ridiculous".

His comments come just days after ministers drew up an emergency package of measures to tackle serious health care problems at Brixton prison, and follow a report which found that prison health care in the UK breached Council of Europe rules which demand care is equivalent in and outside prison.

Sir David made his comments in an inspection report on Reading Prison for Young Offenders.

He was concerned that young people with mental health problems, who may even be suicidal, could end up in seclusion in a hospital wing where there are no overnight medical staff and patrols are carried out by staff not necessarily trained in first aid.

Staff told inspectors that locking inmates away was "the only way we can guarantee that they will be in one piece in the morning".

'It makes no sense'

[ image: Sir David Ramsbotham said situation was
Sir David Ramsbotham said situation was "ridiculous"
Sir David, who consistently has criticised health care provisions for inmates, said it made no sense that, although there was a director of health care in the prison service, he was only responsible for drawing up policy and not implementing it.

Implementation was left to the director general, area managers and prison governors, none of whom were medically qualified.

They were not answerable to anyone for ensuring work was carried out.

As a result, a lot of work was being carried out inconsistently or simply not being done.

Sir David said: "The situation is, in fact, ridiculous. The sooner the NHS has responsibility for prison service health care the better."

Thedirector of health care post is set to be replaced with a new policy task force based within the NHS, under a new agreement between the health and prison services to share arrangements for treating prisoners.

Earlier this week, Prisons Minister Paul Boateng held emergency talks at Brixton Prison after the governor warned inmates with serious mental illnesses were being locked up for 23 hours a day because of a lack of resources to care for them.

Overall, the inspection report praised the achievements of Reading Prison for Young Offenders and remand centre, in particular a scheme to arrange community work for inmates at local charities.

Partnership has been established

Nick Flynn, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said a partnership had been established between the prison service and the NHS to improve health care.

He said: "It remains to be seen whether improvements are going to be made, but no new money has been made available, it is merely a management response that has been made to the problems."

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