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60 seconds with...Richard Knowles, head of prison healthcare at Care UK, HMP Isle of Wight

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We talk to Richard Knowles, head of prison healthcare at Care UK, HMP Isle of Wight, who has been a nurse for 34 years.

Why did you become a nurse?

I had my appendix out aged 11, and was very impressed with the nurses, particularly one known as Auntie Ollie. I wrote to the sister telling her I wanted to be a nurse. I loved the TV show Angels and Kathryn Apanowicz as Rose Butchins for her rough and ready attitude.

Where did you train?

Mid Surrey School of Nursing at West Park Hospital, Epsom.

What was your first job?

I was a care home assistant to gain the experience and references to get on the nursing course. My first nursing post was at the Whitecroft Hospital on the Isle of Wight on an acute psychiatric admission ward.

What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?

If I have a thought or emotion, it is all over my face. This has got me into trouble. But people can tell I mean what I say, which is great for establishing integrity.

From whom have you learnt the most in your career?

The late John Marriott, governor of HMP Parkhurst then head of mental health care at the community trust. He taught me if you get relationships right, all else follows. He gave everyone time and understanding, both prisoners and his team.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Take a job that includes cleaning up vomit and faeces to understand the fundamental aspects of nursing and get some seriously comfortable shoes.

What keeps you awake?

When I worked in acute mental wards, I would wake thinking about whether a suicidal patient had got through the night.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Feedback from patients and families. I thanked a terminally ill prisoner for his time on the clinical governance forum. I was moved to hear how touched he had been by this. Prisoners get little recognition for things they do and respond with real feeling.

I was moved to hear he was touched by my thanks. Prisoners get little recognition for things they do and respond with feeling

What is your proudest achievement?

In 2012, HM Inspector of Prisons and the Care Quality Commission reported on our service, and picked areas of excellence they felt should be replicated across prisons.

What would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?

I nearly became a soldier. I had a place in the medical corps, but I had to shoot a gun and I saw what it did to the target.

What job would you like to be doing in five years?

I retire this year and I’ll be managing an ancient coppiced woodland. I’d like to start some team-building courses, making hurdles and charcoal.

What makes a good nurse?

Being compassionate and caring, while seeing what might be going on; this is particularly true when caring for prisoners. Putting care before targets. People write thank-you letters because of the care received, not for meeting targets.

If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?

Our lack of faith we have in ourselves, which leads to people not trying things.

What is your ideal weekend?

Looking at the fjords from a cruise ship with Linda, my wife. We love Norway; it’s the most beautiful place on earth.

If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?

Les Dawson. I have very happy memories of watching him as a child.


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