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How has Covid impacted on prison healthcare?

Although impact on healthcare was variable, the subsequent harm, unmet need and immediate and long-term risks to health were universally reported

Today we are releasing our report Impact of Covid-19 on healthcare in prisons in England: Early insights.

Our ESRC-funded project Impact-C19P aims to understand how the pandemic affected ‘regular’ prison healthcare in England, such as routine primary care and chronic condition management. We wanted to get an idea of what was already known so we trawled prison-health, generic health, and generic prison websites for documents produced since the onset of the pandemic. This report summarises what we found.

Links to all the sources and documents used in the report can be found at the end of this post.

What did we find?

Although impact on healthcare was variable, the subsequent harm, unmet need and immediate and long-term risks to health were universally reported.

Canvin & Sheard, 2021, p.18

The impact on prison healthcare availability and delivery and the factors driving that impact varied across individual sites and services.

Healthcare services stopped completely in some places but continued in others. Access was often restricted to urgent care or where there was significant risk. Where healthcare services continued, delivery was affected. Delivery involving face-to-face contact was conducted by staff wearing PPE but providers also used alternatives such as telephone appointments and delivery through the cell door. Both local and national conditions such as on-site C19 outbreaks, telephony/technology infrastructure, staffing, and demand, affected the availability and delivery of prison healthcare.

Reports of subsequent harm and unmet need were universal.

Reduced healthcare availability and changes to how services were delivered increased risks to patients but also led to unmet needs and direct harm.

Despite reports of innovative attempts to maintain healthcare in English prisons, the suspension of non-Covid related healthcare at the onset of the pandemic and subsequent restrictions pose immediate and long-term risks to health.

The pandemic exposed multiple aspects of the infrastructure and extensive existing health inequalities (‘legacy factors’) that put people in prison at a disadvantage before Covid-19. The reconfiguration of prison healthcare services widened the existing gap between provision and need, reinforcing the lack of equivalence with the community as well as huge variations across the prison estate and poses a considerable risk of exacerbating existing health inequalities.

This report provides an overview of the range of ways that Covid-19 has impacted on prison healthcare and provides early insights into the reasons for these variations and their consequences.

Canvin & Sheard, 2021, p.7

The full report: Canvin, K. and Sheard, L. (2021) Impact of Covid-19 on healthcare in prisons in England: Early insights. University of York, York can be accessed using the links below.

The Early Insights report focuses on so-called ‘grey literature’ (documents produced outside of academia); our separate review of the academic literature will be available soon. Subscribe or follow us on Twitter to receive updates.

Let us know what you think in the comments or contact us.

Find out more about Impact-C19P

Krysia Canvin is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Leeds

Laura Sheard is Associate Professor at the University of York

This research is funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research & Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19 (Reference ES/W001810/1)

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