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‘Significant’ concerns about morale and work pressures on prison nurses in Scotland

RCN Scotland study shows a rise in sickness absence reported by staff.
Prison nursing

There are significant concerns about morale, recruitment and work pressures in the nursing workforce in Scottish prisons, an RCN Scotland report has warned.

The college, reviewing the move of prisoner health care from the prison service to the NHS five years ago, concludes there is little evidence that it is helping to reduce health inequalities.

The study included a survey of more than 100 prison nurses. Nearly three quarters (72%) of nursing staff who were employed by the Scottish Prison Service before the transfer reported a rise in sickness absence, and only 26% thought access to training had improved.

In some prisons, staff reported high vacancy rates.

Pressures on staff

The report warns that services struggling due to pressure on staff include primary care, long-term conditions

There are ‘significant concerns’ about morale, recruitment and work pressures in the nursing workforce in Scottish prisons, an RCN Scotland report has warned.


Picture: Alamy

The college, reviewing the move of prisoner health care from the prison service to the NHS five years ago, concludes there is little evidence that it is helping to reduce health inequalities.

The study included a survey of more than 100 prison nurses. Nearly three quarters (72%) of nursing staff who were employed by the Scottish Prison Service before the transfer reported a rise in sickness absence, and only 26% thought access to training had improved. 

In some prisons, staff reported high vacancy rates.

Pressures on staff

The report warns that services struggling due to pressure on staff include primary care, long-term conditions clinics, and care of older prisoners or those with learning disabilities.

Nurses reported that medicines management took priority when there were low numbers of staff, and they feared they were losing their other skills as a result. 

Low morale

RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said: ‘The report finds that morale among prison nursing staff is at an all-time low, with high sickness absence rates and the perception among many nursing staff that prison health care is at the bottom of the pile in terms of NHS funding. Overall, our review finds that there is too little evidence that the transfer has closed the health gap between those in prison and those in the general population, and there is still a considerable way to go to achieve the outcomes set out in the original transfer.’

Scottish health secretary Shona Robison said: ‘The RCN report recognises that with the integration of health and social care, we have created an opportunity to improve the well-being of prisoners.

‘This will involve collaboration between multiple agencies and we recognise we must support the Scottish Prison Service in taking this forward.’


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