A shortage of nursing staff is hindering delivery of a comprehensive mental health service at a prison, inspectors have found.
Inspectors said that much has been done to improve the situation at HMP & YOI Grampian in Peterhead since its standard of health and wellbeing was graded as “poor performance” following an inspection in November and December 2015.
But they said the enduring shortage of mental health nurses was “of particular concern” and suggested that Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Grampian may need to consider alternative ways of delivering care in the prison.
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Inspectors highlighted concerns with under-utilised psychiatrist time, a lack of nurses and a need to reshape the mental health workforce.
Last night, HMIPS chief inspector of prisons Wendy Sinclair-Gieben said she saw a number of big improvements but accepted there was a “down-side”.
She said: “The Grampian area have been struggling to recruit mental health staff but we were reassured they were looking into new models for staff and for delivering services.
“They’re looking at this and accepting it’s a difficult problem across the region.
“Inevitably people come into the prison with needs.
“When you don’t have enough mental health staff, what happens is the staff are working longer hours and overtime.
“It’s not a good thing but I’m certain this will not pose any danger to the prison or make prisoners harder to settle.”
Shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr labelled the shortage of mental health nurses concerning.
He said: “Clearly this is an issue that affects the whole of the NHS Grampian board area – and something that the SNP government has failed to address.
“However, I am pleased to read in the report that there has been a significant improvement in morale among the team at the jail.
“It does sound as if progress has been made since 2015.”
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said he hopes the inspector comments are taken on board by the team.
“Many people in prison are there partly because of their mental health issues; there is therefore a wider community benefit in doing more to dress this,” he added.
Mark Simpson, north Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership manager, said he’s proud of the work the staff have done.
He said: “Yes, we have issues in recruiting mental health nurses, however, this is a Grampian wide problem and as a partnership we have worked closely with the Scottish Prison Service to ensure that our healthcare staff within HMP Grampian
are well supported and that the working environment is a positive one.
“We have already put in place a number of changes, such as offering flexible working and part time work, to how we recruit in order to attract more staff and we will continue to look at every available option when recruiting healthcare staff to HMP Grampian.”
The report published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons also contained several positives.
It states that it was “immediately evident” that effort had been made at HMP and YOI Grampian to address the concerns raised by the 2015 inspectors.
The inspection was mainly carried out to review the health care centre due to the poor performance rating from the first inspection.
Chief inspector of prisons Wendy Sinclair said: “There’s a big number of improvements – the biggest of which is the creation of a joint board between the Scottish Prison Service and the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership which ensures there are senior people in the right positions.
“We found vastly improved staff morale, better overall numbers of staffing, promotion of mental and physical health services and the promotion of health information in a new area of the library and in the health centre.
“In 2015 there was a poor performance for particularly health care and wellbeing but the rest of the performance was good.
“We would change it up the scale now, not officially giving it a new rating for this part but I think it’s now of an acceptable performance level.”
Praise for the improvements has been given by politicians and associated organisations, with the hope the report will act as a catalyst for further improvement.
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said he is pleased with the result and hopes the improvements continue.
North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald added: “It is good that progress has been made in improving healthcare support for prisoners at HMP Grampian in Peterhead.”