Fears over 'additional strain' on under-pressure ambulance service as prison call-outs rise
Ambulance workers were sent to Suffolk and Essex jails hundreds of times last year - the equivalent of more than once a day, we can reveal.
Stab or gunshot wounds, overdoses and cardiac arrests were among emergencies paramedics were sent to at Highpoint, Hollesley Bay, Warren Hill and Chelmsford prisons in 2018, according to NHS data.
Call-outs were up from 109 to 135 at Chelmsford, 24 to 31 at Hollesley Bay and 21 to 39 at Warren Hill, while Highpoint saw a slight fall from 213 to 201.
Overall, the service was called 406 times – which works out at more than once a day.
However, the majority of problems ambulance staff responded to – more than a third at category C Highpoint – related to ‘111 calls’ and issues raised by the ‘health care professional admission’ service.
The latter is a system allowing healthcare professionals to book ambulances for people needing hospital services ‘not available or appropriate’ in the community.
Transport can be requested for both emergencies and non-urgent treatment or appointments.
Ambulance bosses said most of the time prisoners are transported to routine medical appointments in prison vehicles, with an escort.
But if their condition requires ambulance transportation, that is provided by the patient transport service – again, usually with an escort.
Central Suffolk and north Ipswich MP and health professional Dr Dan Poulter warned that call-outs to less urgent matters could put additional strain on the already under-pressure East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST).
“It is very important that prisoners are supported with their physical and mental health, and this sometimes requires day to day care and support,” he said.
“(Non-urgent calls) should not be a job for the ambulance service, and it isn’t the function of emergency and 999 call-outs.
“Prisoners are more susceptible to addiction, and a lot of them have poor mental health, so it is understandable that some of the calls the ambulance service receives are to do with that.
But he added: “Ambulance staff shouldn’t be providing regular care, and should be only helping in emergencies or when someone has dialled 999.
“It is particularly distressing when we see that this is beginning to put pressure on the ambulance service, and starting to put a strain on them by using more of their resources.
“Their focus should rightly be elsewhere.”
‘Any increase in calls adds further pressure’
Ambulance service chiefs said prisons are places with highly dense populations so can attract large volumes of emergency calls.
“As a healthcare organisation, our role is to respond to patient need, and we respond to those in prison populations in exactly the same way as all other patients,” an EEAST spokesman said.
“With regard to whether additional emergency call-outs to prisons puts the trust under extra pressure, any increase in calls adds further pressure to a service which is often extremely busy.
“However, because prisons have populations of different sizes, and home different categories and types of prisoner, we can’t speculate on why we may see a rise in calls from any specific prison.”
A prison service spokesman added: “Ambulance call-outs can be precautionary and are made only when prison healthcare professionals deem necessary.
“A significant number are for non-violent incidents, but we are committed to making prisons places of safety and reform and have a zero tolerance approach to violence.”