Prison nurses report cases of daily abuse and intimidation

RCN pledges support after hearing of burnt-out prison nurses' daily encounters with serious mental health issues, drug use, intimidation and abuse

A nurse has described the toll of working in a high security prison as calls were made for improvements in the working conditions of staff.

Spice use is among the problems encountered by nurses working with the prison population. Picture: Alamy

Catherine Jones, who used to work in a Category B male prison, described how she dealt with a suicide, self-harm, serious mental illness, use of the drug spice, acute abdominal pain, sepsis and a manslaughter incident – all in one week.

Ms Jones was speaking to RCN congress in support of calls for the college's council to work with employers to improve morale and working conditions for UK prison nursing staff.

She said working in prison healthcare required knowledge of primary care, acute care, mental health, palliative care and elderly care.

Lions' den

‘When 100 plus men are waiting for their methadone, choosing which wing to start with feels like walking into the lions' den. You need eyes in the back of your head. But it’s rewarding work when one of your patients is released in better health than when they arrived,' she told the meeting in Belfast.

Proposing the motion, Alistair Grant said threats, intimidation and abuse are a daily occurrence for prison staff.


‘Nurses are firefighting and they are feeling burnt out,' he said.

The meeting heard that 64% of respondents to the RCN 2017 Safe Staffing Survey who work in prisons said care was compromised on their last shift. 

Congress chair Stuart McKenzie, who manages forensic services, said prison nursing was the most critical area of nursing practice.

‘If we can’t care for our prisoners it’s a damning indictment of our society.’

The resolution was passed.

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