Prisoners suffer cancelled appointments and poorer healthcare

‘The punishment of being in prison should not extend to curbing people’s rights to healthcare,’ says Nuffield Trust think tank

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 25 February 2020 17:19
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The number of prison escorts to transport and guard prisoners while at hospital has reduced
The number of prison escorts to transport and guard prisoners while at hospital has reduced

Prisoners in Britain frequently have hospital appointments cancelled and receive less healthcare than the general public, a new study has found.

As many as four in 10 hospital appointments made for a prisoner were cancelled or missed in 2017-18, with missed appointments costing the NHS £2m.

The in-depth analysis of prison healthcare by the Nuffield Trust think tank examined 110,000 hospital records from 112 prisons in England.

It revealed 56 prisoners gave birth during their prison stay, with six prisoners giving birth either in prison or on their way to hospital.

The Nuffield Trust said its findings raised concerns about how prisoners are able to access hospital care after a cut in the number of frontline prison staff and a rising prison population.

It said this was likely to have reduced the number of prison escorts available to transport and guard prisoners while at hospital.

The study, funded by the Health Foundation, found 24 per cent of prisoners had fewer admissions to hospital and outpatient appointments than members of the public of the same age and sex. They also had 45 per cent fewer admissions to A&E departments.

A total of 33,000 appointments were missed, 40 per cent, double the amount seen in the general population.

Of the admissions to hospital, 18 per cent were linked to injuries and poisoning. A quarter of all admissions involved some form of substance abuse.

Lead author Dr Miranda Davies, a senior fellow at the Nuffield Trust, said: “The punishment of being in prison should not extend to curbing people’s rights to healthcare. Yet our analysis suggests that prisoners are missing out on potentially vital treatment and are experiencing many more cancelled appointments than non-prisoners.”

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She added: “As well as the moral case for high-quality prisoner health, improving prisoners’ access to hospital care makes sense from a practical and financial perspective too. Delays in treating conditions such as cancer or diabetes early can result in longer and more complex treatments when prisoners do eventually get to hospital.

“Ensuring prisoners receive the healthcare they need is also a vital part of rehabilitation and could help ensure people leave prison less likely to re-offend.”

The independent think tank called for more public data on prison healthcare and more transparency around the numbers of prisoner escorts.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The NHS funds core health services in prisons themselves so that prisoners do not have to travel to other NHS facilities for all their needs. But when they do need to travel offsite, missed appointments especially at late notice not only affect patient care, but also cost money. That’s why the NHS is working with the Prison and Probation Service to help them ensure hospital appointments are wherever possible prioritised."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Prisoners are able to access a range of healthcare services in custody including GP appointments, mental health and substance misuse support.

“Every effort is made to ensure inmates get to any necessary external appointments, while our capacity to escort prisoners has been boosted by the recruitment of 4,400 additional prison officers since 2016."

NHS England said prisoners did have access to health services without needing to travel but when they did leave prison missing appointments "not only affect patient care, but also cost money. That’s why the NHS is working with the Prison and Probation Service to help them ensure hospital appointments are wherever possible prioritised."

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