'They say it's not their department'

Many families have a sense of being passed around the houses as they try to get help for their loved ones. It's not always easy to know which door to knock on – and systems can be slightly different from one prison to another. It's common to be told that, even if an issue is affecting someone's health, it isn't the healthcare department who can help.  ​

Some background

Healthcare providers and the NHS tell us that a high proportion of the issues that undoubtedly impact on people's health in prison are not in the remit of prison healthcare teams.​

To name just a few examples, issues such as cell bells not being answered; prisoners not being escorted to hospital appointments; lack of healthy food; unsanitary conditions; not being able to make phone calls to family; lack of warm clothes or problems with visits are considered 'prison side' issues. The people who could ultimately resolve these problems will not be employed in the healthcare team. ​

Healthcare providers describe themselves as 'guests of the prison'. They work in partnership with prison colleagues but can't call the shots on prison side issues. It's helpful when families are conscious of this; avoid getting into a blame-game; and make it easy for staff to pass their issue on to the right department. ​

Our top tips

  • Do your best to knock on the right door - If you're not sure, ring Prisoners' Family Helpline on 0808 808 2003 for guidance.
  • Take notes – record the names of who you've spoken to and what has been said in your interactions​
  • Put your issue in writing in a concise, factual email, so it's easy for staff to pass accurate information to the correct department.​
  • Take it step by step - Use every contact to take a step closer to help. Keep a record of who you've spoken to and try to approach every interaction as constructively as you can.​ ​