Sean Duggan’s (pictured) move to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health has happened at a crucial time in the field of offenders’ mental health, writes Mithran Samuel
Moving from a job in government to one where you are likely to be lobbying former Whitehall colleagues is always a challenge.
But Sean Duggan, who moved from the Care Services Improvement Partnership to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health last month, has made the shift at a momentous time for his specialist area – the provision of mental health care to offenders.
The day before he spoke to Community Care, the government announced a strategy on criminal justice with a greater focus on prevention and rehabilitation. It signalled an approach on mental health involving increasing non-custodial sentences and support for less serious offenders, improving care within prisons and targeting those at risk of offending for extra treatment.
A 1998 Office for National Statistics study found half to three-quarters of prisoners suffered from a personality disorder, 40 to 76 per cent from a neurotic disorder, and 6 to 13 per cent from psychosis, up to 32 times the prevalence in the general population.
Duggan, until recently director of health and social care in criminal justice for Csip’s London region and now director of the Sainsbury Centre’s prisons and criminal justice programme, warmly welcomes the shift, although with caveats.
“For this strategy to have clout it needs to be properly thought through and resourced,” he says. “There needs to be a comprehensive focus on all aspects of the system: diversion away from prison, excellent mental health care within prison resettlement so people who are released have a job, a place to live and access to care.”
He says any shift of numbers from jail into treatment requires extra capacity within the health system.
Two of the most eye-catching initiatives were mental health courts and “hybrid” prisons.
The former, which already operate in the US and Australia, are designed to deal with offenders with mental health problems, for instance through specialist judges and lawyers, and divert them into treatment.
Duggan, who is a registered mental health nurse and was previously director of nursing at an NHS trust, says that it is a good idea although the government should examine the evidence.
But he is more sceptical about hybrid prisons, which would entail specialist jails for prisoners with severe mental health problems who were not in secure hospitals. “It needs careful consideration. It may not be appropriate for the UK given the nature of the criminal justice system.”
Duggan is positive about the government’s efforts to improve offender mental health care, saying the problems have been more about implementation than policy.
Key developments include the transfer of responsibility for prison healthcare from the Prison Service to primary care trusts, which was completed in April 2006.
Duggan says this has made a difference, but adds: “PCTs still need to prioritise prison healthcare because the job is not done yet. For example, the strategic direction of the national service framework for mental health should apply to all prisons.”
He says he hopes the centre’s efforts to improve prison mental health care will benefit from his experience of policy, and commissioning and delivering offender health services. He adds: “I’m relishing the opportunity to work in the third sector in an area I’m passionate about.”
As for where his allegiance lies, at a time when the Sainsbury Centre, a key member of the Mental Health Alliance, is campaigning against the government’s Mental Health Bill, Duggan is direct:
“The centre is a well-established member of the alliance and I will play my part in that.”
Duggan and divin’
● Favourite meal: “Chicken madras.”
● Best film: “Shawshank Redemption – appropriately enough.”
● Music of choice: “Traditional Irish. The clue’s in my name.”
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