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Medical Treatment

As of April 2003, responsibility for funding prison health services shifted from the Home Office to the Department of Health. This was the first step in a five-year process that will see prison health become part of the National Health Service (NHS). Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are now taking responsibility for the commissioning and provision of health services to prisoners in their areas. In prisons where this has occurred, complaints about healthcare will need to taken up with the local PCT.

In May 2004 the ‘Prison Service Standard on Health Services for Prisoners’ was issued, setting an auditing standard: “To provide prisoners with access to the same range and quality of services as the general public receives from the NHS.”

This system results in the rather complicated situation where responsibility for provision rests with the PCT, but actual provision may be by the prison service, PCT, independent operator or a mixture, depending on local arrangements. To make matters more complicated ‘clinical governance’ (“a framework through which NHS organisations are accountable for continuously improving the quality of their services and safeguarding high standards of care, by creating an environment in which excellence in clinical care will flourish”), will remain the responsibility of the Governing Governor (PSO 3100), and ultimate responsibility for care will rest with the Director-General.

Access to Medical Records

The DPA allows access to copies of medical records. A fee of £10 is payable to obtain these. Disclosure can be refused on the basis that it would cause serious harm to the physical or mental health of the patient or any other individual.

See also Access to Prison Records above


All medical information should be treated in confidence and is not to be disclosed except for specifically defined purposes. The same confidentiality applies to prisoners who are HIV positive. The prison guidelines say that if it seems desirable in the inmate's interest to inform a third party that he or she is HIV positive, a member of staff must consult the prisoner and must obtain the prisoner's consent before disclosing the information. The prison authorities may be liable in damages if they negligently reveal confidential information, for example that a prisoner has committed sexual offences and as a result he is assaulted.
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