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 skillset and disposition.
Even though being a nurse 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.
Prison nurses are required to work in a variety of settings, from young offenders’ institutes to maximum security prisons. Some environments will provide their own unique challenges, while others will rely on nurses to call upon their experience in order to handle situations effectively.
Regardless of their working environment, nurses are expected to take a non-judgemental approach to their role, treating each of their patients with respect.
The standard of prison nursing has developed significantly in recent times and is virtually unrecognisable when compared to the level of care available two to three decades ago. Prisoners are now able to receive the same standard of healthcare experienced by those beyond the bars, although some arguably require much more care, especially those suffering from mental or substance-related health problems.
Furthermore, nurses are able to operate amongst multidisciplinary teams, allowing them to carry out their day to day duties more effectively.
Expectations of a prison nurse
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.
It is often said that prison nurses have to wear a lot of different hats on both a professional and personal level. This means that, although they may be a nurse, they may also become a parent figure. A lot of the people nurses are dealing with have social, drug or alcohol problems.
Nurses must aid their patients, metaphorically taking their hand and leading them into sobriety or helping them with social issues. It is all about getting patients back on the right track, aiding their rehabilitation and being there as a long-term confidant.
Common misconceptions surrounding prison nursing
There are so many myths surrounding prison nursing, and these misconceptions can often deter nurses from answering the call of prison work. One of the key barriers that dissuade 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. Nurses can always rely on backup, whether it be from other colleagues working alongside them or through access to an alarm system that can be triggered at any time.
Every patient is risk-assessed. Special security measures are taken when a patient is deemed to be high risk and there's cover available from wardens.
Prison nurse salary
The salary of a prison nurse can vary, depending on the role and the experience of an individual. Band 5 nurses with a year’s experience can hope to earn upwards of £23,000, while those with a more extensive background should expect a higher pay rate. Agency nursing can pay more per hour, with typical rates for Band 5 nurses being between £20 and £30.
Those who do choose to work in this field will have plenty of opportunities 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.
Working hours for prison nurses
Prison nurses will typically operate a standard 37.5 hour week which may include weekend and evening work, depending on the role, although 40 hour weeks are not uncommon. Part-time nursing agency roles are also available, allowing individuals to take on shifts that can be moulded around their lifestyle.
Training and development for prison nurses
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 such as mental health or substance misuse. Healthcare management leadership and transcultural healthcare practice training are also available.
Prison nursing can lead to senior nursing roles, either in prison or as part of a general practice. Further development could also lead to work as a nurse practitioner or an advanced nurse practitioner. Such roles offer nurses a greater degree of self-governance and the option to manage their own workloads.
Find out more
To enquire about our prison nursing opportunities or to discover more about the support we can offer you, please contact our team or call 01785 236 202.