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Prison Healthcare Under Strain as Overcrowding Crisis Worsens, Warns BMA

Recent figures from the Prison Service revealed that the prison population in England and Wales reached a peak of 80,846 at the end of May and that there were fewer than 300 cells available for new inmates. The prison authorities have already begun using police cells to house prisoners in some areas of the country.

Dr Ashok Rayani, a prison doctor and member of the BMAs Civil and Public Services Committee said:

Prison healthcare services do not have the staff, infrastructure or budget to cope with the needs of the rising prison population. Unacceptable delays in assessing and treating prisoners are now commonplace, while specialist services designed to deal with mental health and drug addiction problems are badly stretched to the point of becoming ineffective a disastrous situation considering how endemic these conditions are within the prison population.

The pressure to see large numbers of prisoners also means that maintaining accurate health records is problematic, especially as prisoners are routinely transferred from one institution to another without warning and that there are few efficient mechanisms in place to transfer health information or records.

In the short term this bleak picture places vulnerable prisoners at risk from serious complications because their conditions are not being assessed immediately and treated adequately. In the long term, the prison system is failing the public by not addressing the serious health conditions that lead prisoners to offend and re-offend, such as mental health and drug addiction problems.

Dr Clare Jenkins, the Chairman of the BMAs Civil and Public Services Committee said:

Prison healthcare services have been neglected for many years by successive Governments. The BMA believes that the prison system is reaching an unprecedented crisis point that requires urgent strategic and financial action from the Government.

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