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Mental Health Problems: Prisoners

Volume 622: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2017

6. What steps she is taking to ensure that prisoners receive appropriate treatment for mental health problems. (909091)

Prisoners are far more likely to suffer from mental health issues than the general population. From April, we will introduce a co-commissioning approach into prisons in England, with governors making decisions about prison healthcare alongside local NHS commissioners. As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, these matters are devolved in Scotland.

Indeed, although the Howard League tells us that 2016 was the worst year ever recorded for suicides in prison, with one prisoner every three days across the UK taking his or her life. Does the Minister accept that the earliest diagnosis— and the best diagnosis—will not make much difference if we continue to house prisoners in overcrowded prisons, with the most vulnerable being locked up 23 hours a day?

Each of those cases is a tragedy and my condolences go to the family concerned. The right hon. Gentleman is right that it is important to hold prisoners in appropriate circumstances. We are working hard to improve the mental health training of staff, and we are in lengthy discussions with the Department of Health about the broader provision of mental health care.

18. What analysis has the Department done on people going into prison with mental health problems, as opposed to acquiring mental health problems in prison? (909103)

We are working hard on continuity of care in the transmission of notes from the community into the custodial estate, so that we can improve our pick-up of mental health problems when prisoners arrive. There is ongoing training of staff, so that if mental health symptoms develop within prison they can be spotted and the appropriate care provided.

When inmates become so acutely unwell that the prison is not equipped to care for them, they should receive appropriate treatment under the Mental Health Acts. In the outside world, this happens within 24 hours; in prisons, the guidelines recommend 14 days. An answer I received to a parliamentary question last year showed that, of 1,141 prisoners, three in four waited more than that two-week window. What action is the Secretary of State taking to rectify this urgent situation?

The hon. Lady is right that access to secure accommodation can be challenging—not only within the prison system but within the community for those who have not committed offences, who cannot always access it within 24 hours. We are in lengthy discussions with the Department of Health on this, because access to secure accommodation in the circumstances the hon. Lady outlines is very important.

Last year, 2016, was the worst recorded for suicide in prisons. The Secretary of State introduced the Prisons and Courts Bill, but it contains nothing to address mental health issues. Why has the Justice Secretary missed this valuable opportunity to enshrine in law the way in which we treat prisoners with mental health problems?

Last year’s prison White Paper contained something on healthcare, giving governors input into the commissioning of services, so that if there is an issue with mental health provision the governor can say so.