Eilish McBeth, a 26-year-old nurse from Clackmannanshire, has found her dream job working in a prison. Starting as a student nurse at HMP Glenochill, she is now a team lead with NHS Forth Valley, responsible for caring for inmates with long-term health conditions in three different jails.
Contrary to the stigma surrounding prison nursing, Eilish feels safe in her work environment and believes that other healthcare settings can be more unsafe. The medical wing in the prison resembles a typical GP setting, with consultation rooms equipped with desks, chairs, and examination beds. However, access to these rooms is strictly controlled by the Scottish Prison Service.
Medical cases are prioritized based on urgency, similar to community settings. At HMP Polmont, the medical staff sees 40-50 patients daily. Eilish sees around six to seven patients each day and develops individual care plans for those referred to her with chronic conditions. She finds it rewarding to make a difference in the lives of these vulnerable patients and hopes to change their outcomes.
NHS Forth Valley has responded to the rising prison population by creating 34 new jobs in the prison healthcare sector. This increase has been observed since the lockdown. Mental health services, in particular, have seen a significant rise in demand for support. Patients still need to be referred to the team by prison guards or social work partners.
Jon Henshall, a mental health occupational therapist, highlights the impact of the prison environment on patients’ anxiety levels. Being confined indoors for extended periods can heighten their anxiety. As a result, therapists like Jon need to carefully schedule appointments to ensure patients can access care without feeling isolated. Despite the challenges, Jon finds his work rewarding and believes that misconceptions about prisons discourage people from applying for vacancies.
Specialist services, such as speech and language therapy, are also provided within the prisons. Forth Valley has five speech and language therapists, including Jacqueline Smith. She notes that up to 80% of prisoners may have speech and language needs. Jacqueline’s role involves staff training and raising awareness of these needs among Scottish Prison Service staff. The therapy sessions aim to improve communication skills, enabling patients to communicate more clearly with prison staff, family, friends, and even their lawyers.
Jacqueline is passionate about making a difference in the lives of people who have faced numerous challenges. By providing accessible services within the prison, she hopes to make their lives a little easier.