This blog is a personal reflection on what inspired me to choose nursing in the prison services and why I can’t see myself working anywhere else.
By Alice Porter
Registered General Nurse, Health and Justice Services, for Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust
Alice graduated with a nursing degree from the University of Salford and has been working for GMMH since qualifying.
I’d been interested in prison nursing after choosing to study end of life care in prisons for a module assignment at the University of Salford. I like the idea of being able to have a positive influence on people who tend to be forgotten about in society and helping to ensure people in prison receive equal access to care - as they would in the community.
There are a lot of rewarding aspects to nursing in health and justice services. Nurses have a lot of independence and can use initiative; I feel this is really good for professional development. There is always something different happening each day and that keeps things interesting! I like the fact that we have a set shift pattern, which makes it so much easier to plan life outside of work. I also love being able to build therapeutic relationships with people on a longer-term basis and being a positive smiling person in their day.
If you are wondering what a typical day in my role looks like I’ve detailed what this involves. I get to work and go through security, collect my keys, and walk up to the healthcare department. We work in different areas each day, so I check where I am detailed to work for the day.
A usual day would consist of administering medications on prison wings and then performing clinics at the healthcare centre. The clinics tend to be general nurse clinics, bloods clinics or more specialised clinics such as diabetes care. I hold an emergency radio to respond to incidents around the jail – these could be anything from asthma attack to suicide attempts. I do reception screens for prisoners who have been transferred in, this is a full assessment of their mental and physical health history. Teamwork is imperative as we work with a mental health in reach team, GPs, pharmacists, psychiatrists, and prison officers on a daily basis.
There are aspects of nursing in prison that I didn’t expect. I don’t think I was prepared for the level of security and the whole security aspect of the job role, but it all seems normal to me now. Things like how many gates we must open and secure behind us, intelligence reports for the prison and so on. I don’t really know what I expected when I started, but I’ve enjoyed every minute so far. I think it’s an environment you either love or hate. I say to people it’s a cross between being a practice/community nurse and paramedic first response staff.
If you are considering a career in health and justice services, I’d suggest you do some research to try and make sure it’s the role for you. Try speaking to people already doing the job and ask for their honest pros and cons. Work out if it is a job you feel you would be comfortable doing, it isn’t for everyone it’s a bit like marmite.
See if you can arrange to do a visit after applying to get a feel for the place. Our service offers informal chats about the roles available, site visits or shifts to shadow a member of the team. You can find out more about this here: Health and Justice Careers | Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS FT (gmmh.nhs.uk)
I got warned off by so many people when I told people about the job, people telling me I shouldn’t work in a prison because it’s “too depressing”. It can be sometimes, but I enjoy coming to work and building rapport with people.
On a practical level, it takes a while for clearance to come through so be prepared to wait quite a few months for a start date.
The benefits of working in this career far outweigh the challenges. I love this job and I can’t honestly see myself leaving a prison environment.