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Health needs assessment for Irish prisons still awaited

The health needs assessment for Irish prisons has been delayed to ensure the report reflects the “current situation” of Covid-19 in prisons, the Irish Prison Service (IPS) has confirmed.

The report, due to be finalised in June, required clarifications in light of the pandemic. It is currently being completed and will go to the Department of Health, Department of Justice and IPS for consideration.

Terms of reference for the review of prison healthcare were agreed between the above departments and the IPS in August 2018.

Meanwhile, Irish prisons had been “fortunate” in regard to Covid-19 outcomes, according to IPS Clinical Director Dr John Devlin.

However, the virus has presented prisons with new healthcare challenges.

Speaking to the Medical Independent, Dr Devlin said the virus had “added an extra layer” to the existing healthcare issues in Irish prisons.

He explained that prisoners are more likely to get chronic diseases due to factors such as homelessness and smoking.

Irish prisons have an ongoing requirement to monitor and mitigate infectious diseases including hepatitis C, hepatitis B and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

There have also been significant challenges in caring for prisoners’ mental health and wellbeing, according to Dr Emma Regan, Head of Psychological Services at the IPS.

Throughout the pandemic, prisoners have been isolated from their families and other members of the community.

Dr Regan told this newspaper that the impact of increased isolation on people’s mental health was “the biggest challenge” faced in the psychology service.

To protect the mental welfare of prisoners, a mental health protocol is implemented during outbreaks. This includes psychological first aid, care packages and activities.

As of late July, there had been 11 Covid-19 outbreaks in Irish prisons.  Some outbreaks consisted of six or seven people including staff members, Dr Devlin said.

In the case of an outbreak, a management team implements an emergency response plan that establishes an outbreak control team immediately.

The most recent outbreak, at time of writing, was in Loughan House, Co Cavan, with one positive case in a prisoner.

Across Irish prisons, there had been no Covid-19-related deaths among prisoners or staff and no referrals to hospitals, according to Dr Devlin.

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