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Prison nurses ‘becoming demotivated, stressed and burnt out’

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Working conditions and morale must be improved for prison nurses, who are operating within a service that is in crisis, members of the Royal College of Nursing have warned.

Speaking this week at RCN congress, nurses working in prisons said they were working under “extreme pressure” within an environment where care requirements were not fully understood.

“The workload is not fit for purpose and relationships can be difficult”

Alistair Grant

They highlighted that nursing staff were dealing with high workloads and that relationships with employers were strained due to a lack of understanding about their role by bosses.

This was all taking place within an overcrowded prison service, which had been found to be failing to meet care standards, they said on Tuesday at the RCN’s event in Belfast.

At the same time, staff had to deal with abuse from prisoners and were required to draw on many different elements of nursing to provide care, they added.

Alistair Grant, from the RCN’s Scotland board, said: “Nurses are under extreme pressure, describing environments that do not fully understand the specialist and unique nature of care requirements.

“The workload is not fit for purpose and relationships, due to lack of understanding from employers and agencies, can be difficult,” he told delegates.

“With the backdrop of an environment of threats, intimidation and abuse are daily occurrences,” said Mr Grant.

“Staff working with these patients have a great deal of knowledge, experience and abilities and should be respected as such”

Catherine Jones

He added: “Our nurses are firefighting, describing becoming demotivated, stressed, and in some cases, feelings of burnout.”

Catherine Jones, a nurse who previously worked in prisons, said it was hard to describe how varied and challenging the role as it required so many skills.

“Working as a nurse in prison requires many different skills,” she said. “You have to be a primary care nurse, an acute nurse, a mental health nurse, a palliative care and elderly nurse – and sometimes even a prison officer – all at the same time.

“I dealt with suicide, self-harm, serious mental health, the use of Spice, acute abdominal pain, sepsis and even an incident of manslaughter – and that was just in one week,” said Ms Jones.

She said that staffing shortages also contributed to the “difficult” situations nurses in prison faced.

“Patients often have complex needs and require a great deal of intervention, and the staff working with these patients have a great deal of knowledge, experience and abilities and should be respected as such,” she added.

Royal College of Nursing

RCN Congress 2018

The vote on the prison nursing resolution

On Tuesday, nurses at the college’s annual congress voted almost unanimously to carry a resolution calling on the RCN to work with employers to improve morale and working conditions for prison nursing staff across the UK.

Separately, on the same day, the RCN put out a warning on drug use in prisons. 

Nurses who work in prisons were being harmed and put at risk by a surge in the use of the psychoactive drug known as Spice, it said, calling for stronger safeguards.

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