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A to Z of prison nursing

Prison nursing can often be challenging, but understanding what staff face on a daily basis could pave the way for safety improvements.

Prison nursing can often be challenging, but understanding what staff face on a daily basis could pave the way for safety improvements.


Picture: Alamy

Acceptance – a basic need, whether it's being reconciled with a girlfriend or finding a role in your tribe.

Beds – top or lower bunk, they're still old metal standard length and width, and don't help back problems.

Cooking in a kettle – a cookbook many a prisoner could write.

Dentist – in demand following neglect and assault.

Education – missed through undiagnosed ADHD, dyslexia, abuse, trauma or life in transit.

Faith, family, food – whatever stops despair.

Games – pool, dominoes, football, provide occasional healthy distraction and interaction.

Hours - (For staff) good: 8am-6:30pm.
Individuals – some adapt well, others cope by obsessive compulsive behaviour or seek oblivion via drugs. Some get skills, get fit, get out and get a new life. But there are infinite variations and we can never assume.

Job, accommodation and community ties – the three main factors affecting whether someone returns to prison.

Keys – lock me up along with the patients.

Laughter – ‘It's one thing they can't take away from me, and they've really tried, Miss,’ says an inmate. Justice system trumps healthcare. Nursing is over-ridden by any security issues.

Methadone – Daily dosing a clientele with many a tale to tell.

Night-time – there aren’t any nurses available.

Optician – the list is long.

Podiatry – the list is longer still.

Quiet – around 12:30pm lunchtime when the prison roll is checked and correct and all are 'banged up'.
Release date – patients long for and dread in equal measure.

Suicide – we may have to explain our nursing practice in a coroner's court.

Telehealth – for specialists to diagnose remotely and advise the GP, saving on escorting to hospital.

Unjust – patients are quick to spot unfairness in their sentence, their medical treatment, their cell conditions, the prison regime or other inmates, and to threaten to sue, self-harm or 'kick off'.

Vulnerable – as much the victim as the bully; many were abused or 'looked after' or acquired addictions and lacked positive role models.

Wages – £4-£10 a week. For work in the kitchen, cleaning the wing or attending a horticulture course.

X-rays – of fists that have hit walls, fracturing their own knuckles in frustration.

Yoga – We're all doing time: A guide for getting free, by Bo Lozoff. Provided free to anyone in prison by The Prison Phoenix Trust, Oxford.

Zzzzzz – A confined space, old bunk bed, too hot, too cold, locked in from 6pm, away from the familiar with fear, sadness and a snoring cell-mate doesn't make for a calm night's sleep.


About the author

Rebecca Thackray is a prison nurse at HMP Brixton

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