Rosemary Wool, the outgoing Director of Health Care in the Prison Service, has warned ministers that current budget cuts of 13 per cent over the next three years, coupled with the emphasis on security has led to "a very threatening situation".
In the last five years the number of registered drug addicts in jail has trebled to nearly 7,000, instances of suicide and self harm among inmates have doubled, and infectious diseases such as TB have doubled to 31 cases a year. On top of that, four out of 10 inmates are suffering some kind of mental disorder. Health-care experts anticipate that by 2001 the numbers of mentally ill prisoners needing specialist care will be nearly 2,400.
Details of the poor state of health of the country's 54,000 inmates are contained in Dr Wool's annual report published last month. Doctors were particularly concerned about the rise in suicides - up to more than 60 from an average of about 40 in previous years.