What standard of medical care should I receive in prison?
You should be provided with healthcare that is the same standard as if you were outside the prison and had a medical card. (Rule 33)
The Irish Prison Service must maintain the well-being of all prisoners in its care. This includes making sure that infectious diseases, like TB or Covid-19, do not spread. This is why the medical examination at the committal stage is so important. It should:
- identify any prisoner who needs to be isolated because they might have a contagious condition
- organise any necessary suitable treatment.
You can expect the same level of confidential treatment as you would get in any other healthcare setting outside the prison.
You should never be asked to take part in any medical experiment or drug trial.
Who is responsible for the healthcare of prisoners?
The prison doctor is responsible for the healthcare of prisoners. If you get sick or suffer from a medical condition, the doctor will diagnose and treat you within the prison if this is possible. If the doctor or nurse cannot treat you properly within the prison, they can, with the Governor’s approval, arrange for you to be treated in hospital.
The doctor or nurse in prison should treat you with the same dignity and respect as patients would receive outside the prison.
What should I do if I am sick and need to see a doctor?
If you feel sick, tell your Class Officer who will tell the nurse. The nurse will either come to see you and treat you if they can or they’ll make an appointment for you at the next doctor’s clinic.
If you cannot go to the healthcare or surgery area because you are too ill, arrangements can be made for the doctor to come see you in your cell. When you are ill, you should be assessed by someone from the medical staff as soon as possible. Healthcare staff should visit you if it is a medical emergency and arrange for you to be sent to a hospital for further medical attention if needed.
Will my consultation with the doctor be kept confidential?
Generally, yes. Healthcare professionals must make sure they respect your confidentiality. If you have to see the doctor, the consultation should take place in private unless the doctor requests a Prison Officer to be there. They might do this if, for example, they have concerns for their own safety. Those concerns or reasons must be written down.
What you discuss with the doctor is your own business. The doctor must not discuss your health with anyone else except other healthcare staff. The doctor should give you all the information you need to help you make good decisions about your healthcare. In exceptional circumstances, you will be asked for your consent (agreement) to share your medical information. This means you will be asked to read and sign a form describing what information, why and to whom this information is to be shared with.
When can the doctor share medical information about me?
Information about your health should only be shared with other people on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.
For example, the doctor might talk to the Governor about your health if they are concerned that some aspect of the prison environment or activities is damaging to your physical or mental health.
The doctor may also need to share your health information if you:
- need specialist care outside the prison
- need to be transferred out of the prison in an emergency.
The prison doctor or psychiatrist should write to the Governor if they believe:
- your life will be in danger if you stay in prison
- you are unlikely to live until the end of your sentence
- you are unfit to remain in prison
- you are unfit for the particular prison’s regime
- your mental or physical health is being seriously affected by being in prison
- you are unfit to travel outside the prison, even for court appearances.
If the prison doctor or psychiatrist writes to the Governor about any of these issues, the Governor must let the Minister for Justice know about this medical opinion as soon as possible.
If I have a mental health problem, can I access any special services?
If you are suffering from a mental health problem and you want or need to talk to someone about it, the Irish Prison Service must do its best to provide you with the services you need.
All prisons have access to mental health services and the doctor will make arrangements for treatment if they think it’s necessary.
The first thing to do is to talk to the prison nursing staff, many of whom have mental health training. Addiction counsellors will see anyone with an addiction problem. The prison psychologist will see you and, if you need it, they’ll treat you as much as they can.
The prison psychologist must always respect your dignity and confidentiality. If they are concerned about your safety or if they think you might be a risk to yourself or to others, they can make recommendations to the Governor about your needs.
The doctor in the prison must pay attention to any mental health problems you have. They can then ask the prison psychologist or the Governor to send you for a mental health assessment.
The failure to provide you with adequate psychiatric healthcare could be found to be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
If I have a drug problem, can I access treatment services in prison?
Yes. If you are taking drugs or are addicted to drugs, then there are drug treatment programmes available to you while in prison.
These services should be the same as services that can be found in the community and should be suitable to the prison setting. If you have a history of opiate use and you test positive, you may be offered medical help to detox.
If I am worried about my sexual health, can I access screening and treatment services in prison?
Yes. You should speak to the medical staff at the prison about getting a blood test to set your mind at ease If you are worried you have:
- a sexually transmitted disease or infection
- HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
All prisoners are offered a hepatitis B vaccination and screening for bloodborne viruses like hepatitis and HIV.
What happens if I have a contagious disease like Covid-19 or TB?
If you have a contagious disease you should tell the nurse when you’re being admitted to prison. Healthcare staff will contact the Public Health Department.
If there’s a danger that you could infect others, you will be separated from other prisoners as quickly as possible to stop the spread of the disease
The medical examination identifies any possible contagious diseases in prisoners, so you can be kept apart from other prisoners and treated.
When you are being committed, you should be asked specific questions about the symptoms of any illnesses you have or have had in the past. You’ll also be asked about any:
- medications you are taking
- history of contact with any infectious diseases.
All prisoners should, if possible, be put in a cell on their own until they have been medically checked. Infectious diseases may be more likely to spread in prison due to the close contact prisoners may be in with each other, particularly if you are sharing cells
If the nurse suspects that you might have TB or Covid-19 when you are committed, you should be isolated in suitable accommodation until the diagnosis is confirmed. If you receive a positive test result, appropriate action will be taken to make sure the disease does not spread any further.
What are my healthcare rights if I have a disability?
You have the same healthcare rights as everyone else.
You will have a full health check with the prison doctor or nurse when you come into prison. They may ask you if you have a disability. This is a good time to tell them you have a disability so you can get the support you may need. If you tell them that you have any type of disability, your needs are more likely to be met
This is because, by law, the prison has a duty to accommodate your needs within reason if you have a disability. This is called a ‘reasonable accommodation’. However, if the ‘accommodation’ or support is very expensive or it is difficult to provide, the Prison Service may not have to provide it
You may also ask staff for support later on.
If a prison doctor says that you need remedial physical education or therapy, the Governor should, if possible, provide these services to you.
It is very important for your own safety that you say if you have a disability, including deafness or sight problems. This is so that you can be cared for properly if there is an emergency like a fire.
Please visit this page more for information on what your rights are if you have a disability. Prisoners With Disabilities
Will I be able to see a dentist?
Yes. All prisons have arrangements so that you can access the same standard of dental treatment that is available in the community. You can ask to be placed on the list for the dentist and, in some instances, the prison doctor or nurse may refer you.