The 19th July marks the one month anniversary of the Ministry of Justice's introduction of emergency measures designed to alleviate the overcrowding crisis in English and Welsh prisons. A key element of the Government' strategy was an early release programme for some low category prisoners that has to date seen more than a thousand inmates freed early. The Ministry of Justice claimed this measure would ease the strain on the penal system and improve conditions across the prison service.
Despite these assurances, the BMA has been in contact with doctors in the prison and police service who have provided specific examples of the continuing failures that are undermining not just standard healthcare services for inmates but also crucial rehabilitation programmes designed to prevent prisoners re-offending after they are released.
Examples in the BMA's snapshot dossier, entitled 'Crisis in the Cells'
· Chaos in continuity of care and record keeping services that result in prisoners with serious mental health and drug dependency problems not being assessed or treated properly.
· Rehabilitation programmes being impeded by a drastic shortage of police escort officers that prevents prisoners being treated in specialist NHS services. The shortage is so severe that in some areas common medical problems, such as broken hand bones, are not sent for X-Rays in NHS facilities.
· A prison doctor was unable to register a prisoner with serious mental health problems with a specialist mental health team because of confusion and delays in supplying his release details.
· In some areas, the waiting time for new prisoners to be assessed by a prison doctor has more than trebled.
Dr Redmond Walsh, a prison doctor in London and a member of the BMA's Civil and Public Services Committee said:
"The early release programme is supposed to give the penal system a short respite after months of unrelenting pressure. However, prison healthcare continues to be strained to breaking point in many areas. The BMA's dossier, 'Crisis in the Cells', provides a small snapshot of the nationwide and daily serious issues afflicting every stage of prison healthcare.
"Crucial rehabilitation services dealing with mental health and drug dependency conditions are beset with problems from a number of different angles. There are long delays in initial assessment, chronic shortages in manpower and resources that impede treatment and confusion as to what happens after release"
"Added together, this catalogue of failings is preventing rehabilitation and making it more likely that prisoners will re-offend after their release"
Dr Clare Jenkins, chairman of the BMA's Civil and Public Services Committee said:
"The Government must provide a set of concrete and long term proposals that address the specific problems facing prison healthcare. Temporary fixes will not address the current crisis."
"The BMA advises all prison doctors to write formally to their respective prison governors and prison health care providers (Primary Care Organisations or Private Sector Company) in order to highlight any factors in their prison that are leading to increased and serious risk to their patient's health. The BMA will continue to push for extra measures to address the current crisis."