SAUGHTON Prison inmates are being given healthcare via a video link under plans to reduce security risks to staff and other patients.
Prisoners are able to discuss any long-term condition with a hospital doctor on screen by video link – reducing the need for trips outside HMP Edinburgh on medical grounds.
Previously, if a prisoner wanted a specialist appointment they had to be accompanied by two guards and in some cases, if they were particularly dangerous, an A&E department would be cleared before their arrival.
Video conferencing is already used for clinicians to communicate with patients at prisons and the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, but now NHS bosses are hoping to roll it out more widely.
Andy Hogg, Scottish secretary of the Prison Officers Association, welcomed the idea in principle. He said: “As long as they are getting the proper level of healthcare and needs addressed – which would be the major issue – we would not object to it in principle. Moving prisoners always carries a risk to the public so we would welcome anything in terms of minimising this.”
It is hoped the system would cut the risk of incidents after last year’s prison watchdog report criticised Saughton for its high level of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults – with 187 as well as 22 attacks on staff recorded in 12 months.
Prison medical staff are also able to get prompt advice from skilled A&E consultants through the telehealth system as well as provide nursing staff and prison GPs support and advice to manage patient care.
A similar system has been trialled at NHS Airdale in England with special telemedicine clinics, including dermatology and respiratory, for prisoners.
More than 1000 consultations have been carried out with prisoners and it was praised for increasing their access to healthcare. Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said staff safety was paramount, but added the results needed careful monitoring.
He said: “We know inmates have significantly poorer health than the rest of the population, and checking on their wellbeing can’t be compromised as a result of this change.
“That would do no-one any favours, and there will be members of the public who’d prefer to see this money spent in other ways.”
Iain Robertson, head of e-health operations and infrastructure, NHS Lothian, said there were proven benefits of using face-to-face conferencing.
He said: “In this environment its use can improve efficiency and safety while providing an accessible and timely service for prisoners.”