Posted by: ayrshirehealth | July 8, 2015

Prisoners – Unlocking Potential, Transforming Lives by Sharon Hardie

Prisoners – Unlocking Potential, Transforming Lives ..

.. is that achievable?

The journey began way back in the late 90’s when The Verve sang “Drugs don’t work” while our prisons struggled to manage the increase in heroin use and dealt with prisoners using drugs within prison by adding days onto prisoners sentences.  Verve

Thankfully times have changed.

Having worked around prison establishments since then, I have seen and been part of changes, that in those early days would have been inconceivable, and there are too many to mention.

What I do want to mention, though, is how our prisons are an opportunity to help people develop the skills and opportunities to sustain the social and familial “connectedness” which improves health and changes lives for the better.

Why bother?

NHSaaaThe health of prisoners is poor and health inequalities are evident. The Health Needs Assessment (2011) & Oral Health Needs Assessment (2009) carried out by NHS Ayrshire & Arran Public Health Dept clearly demonstrated those inequalities. But it is about much more than physical and mental health and delivery of health care services. It is also about preparing people for their return to the community, which is critical to success in both sustaining any improvement in health and reducing reoffending.

Better Health, Better Lives for prisoners: A framework for improving the health of Scotland’s prisoners was launched in 2012, building on the previous framework of 2002. This 2012 document has been the sovereign document for all health improvement activity that has been generated through our local multi agency Health Promoting Prison Group. The local Health Promoting Prison Action Plan 2011-2015 identified 7 priority areas for action, which of course included the Public Health priorities of:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Obesity
  • Mental Health

SercoSo how did we turn these ideas into action? Cue our very own Batman and Robin….. the dynamic duo of Keith Mason, Gym Manager and champion for health improvement, Serco and Kevin Lyle, Health Improvement Officer, NHS Ayrshire & Arran.  The implementation of the action plan would never have got past first base if these two had not adopted such a “can do” approach.

Health champions

So what kind of “ideas” do I mean? Well, during the Commonwealth Games last year a Commonwealth Games & Lifeskills programme was delivered that engaged prisoners in “classroom sessions” where they learned important lifeskills such as employability, healthy adult relationships and family bonding. Commonwelath GamesAlong with the classroom based work, they were competing against each other in specific Commonwealth sports (obviously this did not include boxing! that would not have been a good idea).

Prisoners ran their very own “Belly Aff” club, supported by the Public Health Jumpstart team and of course Football Fans in Prison which is now being evaluated by Glasgow University.

A key priority of the Health Promoting Prison Action Plan 2011-2015 was to build the capacity of prisoners to deliver health promotion activity.  HMP Kilmarnock was the first prison in Scotland to train prisoners as Health Champions, all undertaking the accredited Royal Society of Public Health certificate in health education. This was a huge step change for our colleagues in HMP Kilmarnock; thankfully it has paid off and is now recognised nationally as best practice with a view to rolling out the Health Champion model across other prisons.

So what?

So I suppose you may be asking yourself……so what??……they are a captive audience and you can deliver all sorts of health improvement activity. Indeed, you’d think so, wouldn’t you?HMP Kilmarnock 2  That is until you actually work in a prison setting when you understand that you literally can’t move around at certain times of the day, accommodation is at a premium and there are so many other agencies trying to access the same prisoners that often it can be impossible to deliver on a planned programme.

Most of us have now heard the term “assets based approach” and it has only been recently that prisoners have been acknowledged as “assets” Really???………………yes it is possible…………….throughout Better Health, Better Lives the use of prisoner involvement is strongly advocated. This approach has been taken forward through our Health Champions and has strong resonance with the aims and objectives of the Scottish Prison Service Organisational Review and Purposeful Activity strategy and indeed the public sector requirement to develop more co-produced services.

So what’s next?

This year will see the development of a new local health improvement strategic framework in 2015 by the Health Promoting Prison Group that will build on health improvement progress to date and include a local action plan. HMP KilmarnockThis framework will include supporting the implementation of national key policies, include evidence based practice and link the overall objectives to national outcomes for both health inequalities and reducing reoffending.

So, can we really unlock potential and transform lives…………yes I’d like to think so if we adopt a whole prison approach to improving health and wellbeing, tapping into the underused assets of prisoners and building capacity of staff to deliver health promotion. Whenever possible, we’ll keep on working together to achieve the healthiest life possible for everyone in Ayrshire & Arran.

This week’g blog was by Sharon Hardie, Health Improvement Manager, Dept Public Health, NHS Ayrshire & Arran

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