Prison mental health team stretched by ‘serious’ increase in demand

Prisons watchdog warns of "serious and sharply increasing" problem of prisoners presenting with mental health and personality disorders.

Health and social care workers providing mental health support to inmates at a north London prison are being stretched by a “serious and sharply increasing” rise in demand for care, a watchdog has found.

An annual report to ministers by the independent monitoring board at HMP Pentonville revealed mental health teams at the prison received 24 referrals a week in 2011/12, up from 18 referrals a week last year. Incidents of self harm had also “increased very significantly” over the last year.

The watchdog said the reasons behind the spike in mental health demand at the prison “were not fully understood”. But it warned of the need for extra resources to bolster the mental health support on offer.

Bed pressures force inmates to wait for care “on the wings”

The prison’s 22 inpatient beds – the majority of which are used for mental health patients – were usually “full to capacity”, the report found. The stretch on beds had led to occasions when inmates in need of mental healthcare were forced to remain “on the wings”.

The report stated:

“There has been (for reasons not fully understood) a serious and sharply increasing problem of prisoners with mental health and personality disorders, far beyond the resources of the Mental Health Team to cope with as well as they would wish.”

“The board takes the view that further resources are urgently needed to tackle these issues,” it added.

The independent monitoring board said that, following concerns last year, improvements had been made in the time taken to transfer severely mentally ill patients to secure NHS hospitals under the Mental Health Act. Most transfers now take place within four weeks, the watchdog found.

Lack of social care provision for inmates with disabilities

The report also detailed how an equalities impact assessment completed by HMP Pentonville in January had identified “a lack of provision for social care” and poor access to healthcare for prisoners with disabilities. The prison was implementing a “detailed action plan” to address the issues.

Other concerns identified by the board included overcrowding and the impact of future budget cuts, which the watchdog fears could have a negative impact on work to reduce reoffending.

A spokesperson for the Prison Service said: “The report by the independent monitoring board at Pentonville will be fully considered by ministers and we will respond in due course.”

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