More than half of prison staff exposed to psychoactive substances at work

Nurses and other staff falling ill after exposure to Spice and other drugs, survey finds

Nurses and other staff falling ill after exposure to Spice and other drugs, survey finds

Picture: Alamy

Nurses and other staff in prisons are falling ill after being exposed to psychoactive substances such as Spice, a new survey suggests.

The poll of more than 1,600 prison staff in England and Wales found those affected had experienced symptoms such as dizziness and confusion, nausea, vomiting, anxiety and paranoia.

Concern over understaffing and drug use

The research by the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA), which includes the RCN, was prompted by concerns about the effects of understaffing in prisons, including the loss of experienced staff, as well as overcrowding and drug use.

Half of respondents (53%) said they had been exposed to psychoactive substances, such as Spice, in the past year; 39% said they had become ill as a result of this exposure.

Symptoms reported by prison staff affected by exposure to psychoactive substances

  • Light-headedness, dizziness, confusion and tiredness (97%)
  • Nausea and vomiting (49.4%)
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure (34.5%)
  • Anxiety and paranoia (28%)

Source: JUPA survey


Assaults ‘now almost routine’

The survey of staff working in 100 prisons also found 14% said they have been assaulted at work more than ten times in the past year.

Of those who reported a physical assault to their employer, 57% said they were dissatisfied with the response.

RCN national office and JUPA co-chair Brian Morton said while prison would always be a tough working environment, current staff experiences were unacceptable.

‘Unfortunately, assaults are now almost a routine experience for many people who work in prisons,’ he said.

‘To make matters worse, drug use is literally poisoning the atmosphere in our prisons, forcing some staff to carry out their duties while experiencing secondary effects.’

Tougher response needed

He urged the government to take action to ensure a tougher response to violent incidents against staff in prisons, including use of the Assaults on Emergency Workers bill, and to prevent their exposure to psychoactive substances.

Responding to the survey findings, a Prison Service spokesperson said: ‘Our staff should be able to carry out their work safely and we have invested an extra £70 million to tackle issues such as the drugs that fuel violence behind bars.’

The spokesperson noted the introduction of the assaults bill and recruitment of additional prison officers as actions taken to reduce violence against prison staff.

Find out more

In other news

This is a free article for registered users

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this? You can register for free access.