Prison staff overwhelmed by NPS crisis

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Health staff at a large Nottinghamshire prison risk being ‘overwhelmed’ by the demands of treating people seriously affected by use of new psychoactive substances (NPS), according to a report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

hrmp Based on inspections carried out in August and September last year, the report says that safety at the large category C HMP Ranby is a ‘major concern’, with existing problems exacerbated by a surge in the availability of NPS. ‘As we walked round the prison, we saw a number of prisoners who were clearly under the influence of NPS; some had been left with other prisoners to check they did not deteriorate, because there were no available health care services or other staff to do so,’ it states.

In addition to the health issues, the wide availability of NPS was leading to serious problems around drug debts and associated violence, says the report, with almost 60 per cent of prisoners telling the inspectors that drugs were ‘easy’ to get hold of in the prison.

Assaults on staff had increased significantly – including ‘very serious’ incidents – and on one occasion prisoners had forcibly entered an office to take back a package of drugs intercepted by staff after it was thrown over a wall. Self-harm levels were also higher than in similar prisons, with four self-inflicted deaths since April 2015, while another death earlier this year was being treated as murder. ‘NPS and the associated debt and bullying had been cited as a significant factor in some of these events,’ the document states.
Urgent action is needed to stabilise the prison and to make it safer, urges the report, including an effective, whole-prison strategy to reduce violence ‘and its contributory causes’, although it does acknowledge that the prison is ‘attempting to respond to these challenges’ and that there were signs of improvement in some areas.
NPS, particularly synthetic cannabinoids, are an area of increasing concern for prison authorities, with the recent HMP Inspectorate of Prisons Changing patterns of substance misuse in adult prisons report labelling them the ‘most serious’ threat to safety and security in British jails, and calling for a national committee to address the issue (DDN, February, page 4).
Meanwhile, new guidance on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C in prisons has been issued by the Hepatitis C Trust. The document aims to provide commissioners and staff with advice on testing and treatment that can be used by ‘any prison that needs to develop, revise or update their services’.
‘The prevalence of hepatitis C amongst people in prison is so high that healthcare teams can’t address it alone – it needs to be everybody’s business,’ says hepatitis specialist nurse Jayne Dodd. ‘The governor, senior staff, prison officers, healthcare team and substance misuse staff all need to understand what hepatitis C is, the transmission risks and the fact that it is curable. Through training and education, we can end the stigma that too often puts people off getting tested or treated.’
Report on an announced inspection of HMP Ranby by HM chief inspector of prisons at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk
Guidance: hepatitis C prevention, diagnosis and treatment in prisons in England at www.hepctrust.org.uk