HC Deb 08 April 1976 vol 909 cc613-5
4. Mrs Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what are the regulations affecting women prisoners' rights to contact a doctor of their own choice, especially when they are pregnant on committal to prison.

Dr. Summerskill

Medical attendance in prison is governed by Rule 17 of the Prison Rules 1964, under which statutory responsibility for the care of the mental and physical health of every prisoner rests with the establishment's medical officer. The medical officer has discretion to call another doctor into consultation. An unconvicted prisoner may, on request, be visited and treated, in consultation with the medical officer, by a medical practitioner of his or her choice, provided that the governor is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the request and that the prisoner pays any expenses incurred.

Mr. Short

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for the latter part of her answer, which suggests that the position is rather better than I imagined. As the prison medical service is under-staffed, would it not be a good idea to extend this facility to convicted prisoners? Many women prisoners—pregnant or not—who have been receiving treatment from their doctors have to surrender their prescriptions on entering prison. Does my hon. Friend agree that if there were contact with prisoners' general practitioners the difficulty could be avoided?

Dr. Summerskill

In the case of pregnant women prisoners, arrangements are made so that the prison medical officer can be in touch with the doctor whom the women attended before entering prison. Prison medical officers can also be in constant touch with outside doctors if they so wish. It would be impracticable to allow all prisoners, whether male or female, to have their choice of medical practitioner while in prison.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is my hon. Friend aware that no one is suggesting that all prisoners should have the medical practitioners of their choice? Will she consider amending the law so that women prisoners who are pregnant have the right to the medical advisers of their choice and the right to medical assistance from those general practitioners in privacy, without the attention of, or observation by, prison staff?

Dr. Summerskill

A sentenced pregnant woman is sent to one of three prisons—Holloway, Styal or Askham Grange. For geographical reasons alone, it would be impossible to ensure that they were all attended by the doctors who attended them before they went to prison. I am confident that such prisoners receive excellent specialised care in prison, and I repeat that a prison doctor is able to consult, whenever he wishes—and he does so—a woman's own doctor. I agree that there are great advantages in having continuous care from the same medical practitioner, but obviously this is not always practicable or possible.