HC Deb 04 July 1985 vol 82 cc513-4
8. Mr. Galley

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the operation of the prison medical service.

Mr. Mellor

Yes, Sir, although we recognise the need for improvement in some areas.

Mr. Galley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware of the growing evidence of the inadequacy of the treatment and facilities available to the prison medical service? Is he further aware of the great concern of the Select Committee on Social Services in its recent inquiry into the misuse of drugs, in which evidence was received that the only treatment available to many drug addicts in prison was cold turkey and that the clinical guidance to prison medical officers was not being implemented? Will he assure the House that further steps will be taken to include treatment for drug addicts and the implementation of the clinical guidance?

Mr. Mellor

The basis upon which medical officers operate in prison is no different from the basis upon which doctors operate in the community. They use their clinical judgment. It is not for us to issue diktats to that effect. However, we wish to ensure that we have a properly resourced and highly competent and proficient prison medical service. As I acknowledged in my initial reply, there is always room for improvement. We shall look at the Select Committee's report and see whether it is on the right track. We shall make our response in due course.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the prison medical service refuses to pass on medical information about prisoners when they leave its care? The medical records of one of my constituents who committed suicide in a National Health Service hospital had not been transferred from the prison medical service. Does he agree that that is unacceptable, that it serves nobody's interests and that it can severely affect the care of patients?

Mr. Mellor

It would be wrong of me to comment upon an individual case about which I had not heard until the hon. Gentleman raised it. If he cares to write to me about it, I shall look into it. The same rules apply to the transfer of a prisoner from one doctor's list to another as apply to the generality of the community. If there is evidence that the normal rules are not being applied, I shall want to look at it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me know.

Sir John Farr

I recognise the skill and expertise of the prison medical service, but can my hon. Friend confirm that in a special case where a certain skill is required from outside the service there is no hesitation about obtaining it?

Mr. Mellor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, because it shows the care with which the prison medical service approaches its task. A panel of outside consultants is available to see prisoners. No fewer than 98,000 referrals to external consultants were made in the last year for which figures are available, 1983. That shows just how much care is exercised.

Mrs. Renée Short

If the Under-Secretary of State is satisfied with the prison medical service, he must be about the only chap who is. Is he aware that the British Medical Association has received an enormous number of complaints from prisoners and former prisoners about the way that they have been treated in prison? The Select Committee intends to look at the prison medical service. I hope that we shall get a better response from him when it does.

Mr. Mellor

I do not think I made the remark that has been attributed to me by the hon. Lady. However, I am satisfied that the prison medical service is provided with better resources and is better able to cope with the demands of the prison population than it was in the days when the Labour Government were in office.