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Prison teams now 'working flat out'

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HIGH demand for mental health services in prisons, revealed last week, is putting nurses under significant strain, healthcare organisations have warned.

HIGH demand for mental health services in prisons, revealed last week, is putting nurses under significant strain, healthcare organisations have warned.

A report by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons said that, despite an improvement in services since the NHS took on responsibility for prison healthcare, the needs of inmates with mental health problems were still not being met.

Furthermore, the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, warned that prison was too often the 'default setting' for people with mental illness who were falling through gaps in health service provision.

As a result, nurses in mental health in-reach teams (MHIRTs) are struggling to keep pace with demand, organisations warned.

Annie Norman, chairperson of the RCN prison nursing forum, said: 'Morale is very low. We've got very experienced nurses who are working flat out and who are cracking under the strain.'

Andy Bell, director of public affairs at the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, said staffing levels of MHIRTs were about one-third of what was required.

'Within in-reach teams, nurses are the predominant practitioners and they are struggling to keep pace with demands because there's not sufficient staffing,' he told NT.

Only 19% of MHIRTs surveyed for the HM Inspectorate report said they could completely meet the mental health needs at their establishment. One-third said there was a waiting time for prisoners to see an RMN and 7% said there was a waiting list of more than 20.

The report found that the introduction of MHIRTs has revealed a scale of need that was previously unrecognised.

'It is clear that when mental health in-reach teams rode to the rescue of embattled prison staff, they found a scale of need which they had neither foreseen nor planned for,' Ms Owers wrote her in report.

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