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JAN 22/2019

What to expect from a career in prison nursing

When entering the medical profession, it's fair to say that not many people have prison nursing careers in mind. However, this challenging yet essential role is one of the most unique options available within the NHS, and may appeal strongly to candidates with the right skill set and disposition.

Even though practising medicine in a prison setting can be a demanding task, the personal and professional rewards available are well worth it, and those who enter into this line of work have an opportunity to make a genuine impact on the lives of vulnerable people.

Naturally, a job in prison nursing will not be for everyone, but those who are open to the idea may find this career path to be an appealing and enriching one.

The role
Prison nurses can be employed either directly by the prison service or by the NHS, though increasingly, it is the health service that provides the employment contract, with work being overseen by a local community provider.

In many ways, prison nursing is similar to primary care practice work, requiring nurses to attend to the various needs of a wide variety of vulnerable patients. However, specialist knowledge tends to be more valued in this field, as the concentration of patients needing help for mental health and substance misuse problems is higher within the prison setting.

To gain work as a prison nurse, applicants will need to be properly qualified and registered,  preferably with training in the fields of adult nursing, mental health or learning disabilities, as well as meeting other basic standards pertaining to their nationality and immigration status.

Once employed, they will receive training on prison-related aspects of their work, in addition to normal continuing professional development activities. More specific training on healthcare management leadership, vocational qualifications in custodial healthcare and transcultural healthcare practice will also be available.

The responsibilities
Working as a prison nurse requires staff to be mentally flexible and able to shoulder a lot of different responsibilities at the same time. In addition to demonstrating their knowledge of complex medical conditions, they will need to show custodial and people skills, establishing and maintaining positive relationships both with the prisoners and the other members of their team.

They will need to be able to make quick decisions on the fly and provide high-quality care while also maintaining security and control and paying attention to the environmental and emotional needs of prisoners.

Chris Morning, prison recruitment consultant at Medacs Healthcare, explained that staff "have to wear a lot of different hats", both on a professional and personal level.

He said: "Although you may be a nurse, you may also become a parent figure. They may be asking you questions - a lot of the people we're dealing with have social problems, drug problems or alcohol problems.

"You're basically helping them get off drugs or alcohol, or you may be helping them with social issues, getting them back on the right track - just basically being there as a person with an understanding."

The risks?
One of the key barriers that dissuades many people from pursuing a career in prison nursing is the perceived risks or dangers associated with working in such an environment. However, this is a misconception - staff can rest assured that they will be surrounded by support staff at all times, with officers ready to step in when the nurses are in need of assistance.

Prison nurses are part of an extensive network of wardens, line managers, team leaders and even priests and vicars, meaning the chances of them having to work alone are close to zero.

Mr Morning, who worked within the prison service for 17 years, said nurses can always rely on backup, whether that be from other colleagues working with them or through access to an alarm system that can be triggered at any time.

"Everybody's risk-assessed, so where a prisoner is high risk it would be deemed that whenever they were unlocked, it would be a three-person unlock or a two-person unlock. There's always that cover where that person is deemed to be a risk," he said.

The rewards
Those who do choose to work in this field will have plenty of opportunity to forge a long-term career for themselves, as good prison nurses are always in demand. Many will develop a regular shift pattern at one facility, while others move from place to place, depending on where they are needed.

The partnership between the prison service and the NHS means that work and development opportunities are available within both organisations at the same time, making it possible to specialise in a range of different areas.

However, perhaps the greatest reward associated with prison nursing is the opportunity it gives workers to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people, to connect with those who are cut off from society and help them to recover, both mentally and physically.

Mr Morning explained: "You're their main connection, and it can be fulfilling when you've helped someone out of a difficult situation - you might have helped someone out of self-harming. It's quite refreshing to know that you've got that kind of influence over somebody, that you've changed their thought process."

For more information about the prison nursing roles we have available please email:

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