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Health Care Needs of Prisoners

Catherine Henry Lawyers
Catherine Henry Lawyers

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Healthcare needs of prisoners

The health care needs of prisoners differ to those of the general population. Access to appropriate medical treatment is often a controversial topic.

This information sheet briefly explains some issues that arise in prison healthcare that can impact on prisoner safety.

What can go wrong in prison healthcare?

  • Unrecognised and unmet needs
  • Unsafe environment (such as ligature points)
  • Poor quality of mental health care

What sort of safety incidents can arise in prisons?

  • Medication errors
  • Delay in accessing treatment
  • Admission, transfer or discharge issues
  • Infrastructure issues (such as staffing, facilities, environment)
  • Patient accident
  • Documentation including records and identification
  • Clinical assessment (diagnosis, tests, assessments)
  • Consent, communication and confidentiality
  • Disruptive, aggressive behaviour
  • Patient abuse (by staff or third party)

Medication errors in prison account for almost half of patient safety incidents

Common themes are:

  • Medication signed but not administered
  • Wrong doses given
  • Wrong medication given
  • Medication administered to wrong prisoner
  • Poor or inconsistent prescribing practice

What are other examples of patient safety incidents?

Delay in accessing treatment is also a common theme:

  • Internal and external referrals being “lost” or delayed
  • External appointments cancelled due to shortage of escorting staff or prison security issues
  • Difficulty accessing medical assessment or treatment in prison when needed
  • Lack of training – prison staff delay in administering medical treatment

What improvements are needed?

  • Improved reporting of patient safety incidents
  • Raising standards for healthcare in prison
  • Improving commissioning of healthcare in prison


The health care needs of prisoners and how can we help?

Our health law team has acted for many families in cases of death and serious harm in both prisons and mental health facilities. We have particular expertise in coronial inquests and negligence matters arising from deaths and serious harm in psychiatric hospitals.

Our health law team is highly respected in the area, with specialist knowledge accumulated over 25 years. We have successfully pursued hundreds of claims and litigated some of the highest profile cases in Australia. We can help bring a case in medical negligence arising out of treatment in custody.

Our team can assist you by providing expert advice and legal support regarding your options. Contact us today on (02) 4929 3995. 

 *The material provided in our information sheets is for general knowledge only and is not a substitute for independent legal advice. For further information about the issues affecting you, please contact one of our experienced and professional lawyers for expert advice.

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