Working in a prison presents its own unique set of challenges. Those employed in the healthcare sector face more than most, by having to provide the best possible care and treatment for prisoners who may be physically and mentally unwell. In such an environment, safety is a major factor to consider.
The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) have a set of legal requirements they must adhere to in order to ensure a safe working environment for the prison healthcare assistants, nurses, and doctors in their employment. As outlined by the Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional & Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA), NOMS have to guarantee the health, safety and welfare of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and carry out risk assessments under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
However, evidence of an ‘ongoing and rapid deterioration in prison safety in England and Wales’ since 2012 has been outlined in a recent report by the House of Commons Justice Committee. There has been an increase in prisoner suicides, violence and deaths, which the POA have partly attributed to cuts in funding and staff reductions. Prisons are struggling to employ and retain staff, and employee health and well-being is said to be ‘at an all-time low’.
The latest Safety in Custody statistics show that in the year leading up to December 2015 there were 4,963 assaults on prison staff, up from 3,640 incidents in 2014. 625 of these were classed as serious assaults, a 31% increase from the previous year.
However, not all prison healthcare employees feel they are working in a dangerous environment. Case studies of healthcare workers in West Midlands prisons paint the picture of safe workplaces, with ample support readily available should any issues arise. When asked whether he was nervous about working in a prison, Healthcare Assistant Wesley Lee said ‘I find it a very safe place to work’ and ‘I’ve never felt threatened in any way, shape or form’, while Clinical Nurse Manager Wendy Sweeney describes working in prison nursing as ‘fantastic’, saying ‘I’ve never come close to being assaulted or being physically threatened at all’.
Although NOMS follow the necessary legislation to protect the safety of all prison healthcare staff, and various case studies indicate that employees haven’t found the job to pose a threat to their safety, figures outlined by the recent Safety in Custody statistics suggest there is still more work to be done.