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Healthcare in prison

Prisoners get the same healthcare, treatment and advice as anyone outside of prison. All prisons have healthcare teams to look after prisoners. Find out more about what healthcare is available, health records, medication and how treatment is arranged.

Types of healthcare in prison

All prisons have a healthcare team - normally run by the NHS. These include:

  • nurses and doctors
  • opticians
  • dentists
  • pharmacists (chemists)
  • mental health teams

Prisons do not have hospitals, but many have in-patient beds for prisoners who need them.

All health treatment is free, including dental treatment and seeing an optician - as long as it's for medical reasons and approved by a doctor.

What happens when someone first arrives at prison

When a prisoner first arrives at prison they are asked about their health - both physical and mental. They have the chance to let the healthcare team know right away what support they need, if any.

The prisoner will then have a more general check up, normally within a week of arriving in prison.

Special help and support

Prisoners can also get special help and support if they:

  • have drug or alcohol problems
  • have HIV or AIDS
  • have a mental health condition
  • are disabled or have a learning difficulty

Arranging healthcare in prison

Most health problems can be dealt with by the healthcare team at the prison. If a prisoner is unwell, they should speak to prison staff.

If something can’t be dealt with by the healthcare team, the doctor may:

  • get a healthcare professional (an expert in a particular medical condition) to visit and see the prisoner
  • arrange for treatment in an outside hospital - this could be a hospital specialising in a certain type of treatment or care

A prisoner who has a severe mental health condition may be moved to a psychiatric hospital under the Mental Health Act 2007.

Medication and prescriptions

If a prisoner is already taking medication before they go into prison, they:

  • must tell the prison nurse/doctor when they arrive - they can’t take medication into prison with them
  • can carry on taking it - if the prison doctor prescribes the medication
  • get the medication from the prison pharmacist

Depending what medication it is, the prisoner may be able to keep it with them in their cell.

What happens if a prisoner refuses medical treatment

Prisoners can refuse any medical treatment, including psychiatric treatment.

The healthcare team may choose to give someone treatment if the person is not capable of making this decision themselves. For example, if they have a mental health condition or a learning disability.

Wherever possible, the healthcare team will discuss this with the prisoner’s family first.

Health records - what happens to them

The healthcare team keep records of a prisoner’s health - and any treatment they get while in prison.

The prison doesn’t usually have a prisoner’s health records from outside the prison when they first arrive.

The healthcare team can ask the prisoner’s own doctor for their health records, but only if the prisoner agrees to it.

A prisoner can ask to see their health records at any time.

If a prisoner has a drug or alcohol problem

If a prisoner has a drug or alcohol problem when they enter prison, the healthcare team will arrange treatment. All treatment is aimed at getting the prisoner off drugs.

Taking or supplying illegal drugs is banned in prisons.

Female prisoners and healthcare

All female prisons have 'Well Women Clinics' which have the same services as those outside prison.

Female prisoners can ask to see a female doctor or nurse - although sometimes (for example, in an emergency) it is not always possible.

Pregnant prisoners get the same healthcare as anyone outside of prison (from local NHS maternity services).

If a prisoner complains about their healthcare

If a prisoner is unhappy about the healthcare they get in prison, they can complain. Prison staff can explain how they can do this.

  • Source Direct Gov
  • Last Updated: 06 Jan 2012