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Health Services: Prisons

Volume 458: debated on Thursday 22 March 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment she has made of the effectiveness of information and communication technologies infrastructure in the prison medical service with regard to the clinical information and support available; and what assessment she has made of the effectiveness of such infrastructure as compared to that available to doctors working in (a) general practice and (b) elsewhere within the NHS. (127642)

Our overall aim is to ensure that national health service professionals working with offenders have access to similar clinical information systems and services as those in the rest of the NHS in order to improve the quality of patient care and support system reform.

The great majority of health professionals working in prisons have no specialist information management and technology support, and the task of developing and providing prison establishments with appropriate clinical information technology (IT) hardware and software has always been recognised as an integral corollary of the transfer of health care responsibility from the Home Office to this Department from April 2006. Within the Department, the provision of strategic IT systems is undertaken by the NHS Connecting for Health (NHS CfH) agency as a part of the wider national programme for IT in the NHS.

Planning is under way to extend compliant primary care systems to support prison healthcare. Mental health and limited secondary care functionality will be added at a later date as applications become available. The first practical step to achieving this goal is in the form of providing the necessary connectivity to the N3 network in the prison estate. This has two aspects: providing broadband connections to prison establishments, and developing a network infrastructure within establishments. In December 2006, £3 million was specifically allocated through strategic health authorities to enhance prison health care IT infrastructure, with the majority of work due to complete this month. NHS CfH is liaising with the prison service and primary care trusts to oversee implementation of this phase of the programme, based on local costed plans.