Health care environments in prisons in London to be transformed for benefit of prisoners and staff

Five prisons in London are to have the environments in which they deliver health care transformed for the benefit of prisoners and the staff who care for them as part of a new pilot scheme in London announced today.

The two-year pilot programme will provide funding for five prisons in the capital to improve the physical environment in which health care is delivered to prisoners, such as clinics, assessment rooms and waiting areas. The projects will be led by health staff working in prisons and will involve prisoners in the planning and design of the projects.

The pilot scheme is part of The King's Fund's successful Enhancing the Healing Environment programme, which has transformed the environments of more than 125 NHS hospitals, health care facilities and hospices since its launch in 2000. In that time more than 1,200 patients and staff have been involved in developing and managing projects to improve health environments.

The pilot programme is being run by the King's Fund in partnership with Offender Health, the Department of Health and other charities. This partnership reflects the fact that since April 2006 commissioning responsibility for prison health services has been devolved to NHS primary care trusts.

Speaking today at the Sharing Good Practice in Prison Health conference, Health Minister Rosie Winterton MP said: 'I am very pleased that the King's Fund's Enhancing the Healing Environment programme is to be extended. By improving the environment in which health care is provided, the programme has already had a positive impact on both staff and patients in other settings. It is hoped that the pilots will lead to surroundings which are not only more pleasant, but which also have a genuine therapeutic impact, raise morale, and improve the engagement between health care staff and people in prison.

/>'Our involvement in this programme demonstrates our commitment to better health services within prisons. We have transferred responsibility for prison health from the Prison Service to the NHS, and backed this with extra investment, including £20 million a year for mental health in-reach teams employing 360 additional full-time equivalent staff. These reforms are already delivering better health services right across the prison estate.'

The projects will be led by a multi-disciplinary team headed by a prison nurse, a prison officer and a representative with responsibility for the prison buildings. The King’s Fund will develop the pilot schemes and provide a training programme to develop the teams’ leadership skills to give them the practical knowledge they will need to make their projects a success.

The programme will aim to be built on the success the Enhancing the Healing Environment programme has had in mental health trusts around the country and adapt the approach successfully to improve prison health. A recent Social Exclusion Unit report estimated that as many as 70 per cent of the 136,000 people held each year in prisons in England and Wales suffer from two or more commonly classified mental disorders.

The King's Fund Chief Executive Niall Dickson said: 'The incidence of mental ill health in prisons is a massive problem - and often their physical health is compromised by drug and alcohol addiction. We know from our work with mental health trusts that improving the environment in which people are cared for makes a huge difference to how they feel, and a big difference to the staff who care for them. Making these services more effective should improve rehabilitation.

'It is in everyone's interests that prisoners should be treated in decent health care settings. We also hope it will encourage the prison health care system to place greater value on the impact that improved environments can play.'

The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health will be undertaking an evaluation of the pilot programme. Evaluation of previous Enhancing the Healing Environment schemes in hospitals and mental health trusts has revealed a number of significant long-term benefits for patients and staff. These include reduced aggressive behaviour, improved staff recruitment and retention rates, while projects have also helped patients to recuperate faster.

For more on our Enhancing the Healing Environment programme

Notes to editors: 

  1. For further information or interviews, please contact the King’s Fund press office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  2. Health & Reducing Re-offending, Social Exclusion Unit, 2006
  3. An executive summary of Celebrating Achievement: Enhancing the Healing Environment Programme is available on the Department of Health website. For a hard copy of the full report, contact The Stationery Office Publications Centre - Tel: 0870 600 5522.
  4. The following prisons and young offender institutions are taking part in the pilot programme:
    • Belmarsh Prison
    • Brixton Prison
    • Feltham Prison and Young Offender Institution & Remand Centre
    • Holloway Prison
    • Pentonville Prison.
  5. For further information about the King’s Fund’s Enhancing the Healing Environment programme, please visit the Enhancing the Healing Environment section of The King's Fund website.
  6. The King’s Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health and social care, offering leadership development programmes; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.
  7. Offender Health (formerly Prison Health) is a joint Department of Health/Prison Service Unit and forms part of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) service.
  8. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health works to improve the quality of life for people with mental health problems by influencing policy and practice in mental health and related services. The Centre’s work focuses on criminal justice and employment, with supporting work on broader mental health and public policy. It undertakes this work through projects, research, publications and by arranging events.