'They won't tell me anything'

Feel like you're getting stonewalled? You're not the only one. It's very common for family to be told by prison or healthcare staff that they can't share information with them. ​

For many families, this feels like being fobbed off. Not having your questions answered can be frustrating, and many families aren't sure whether the authorities are being genuine when they say they can't tell them anything.​

Some background

Healthcare providers and the NHS tell us that there are a number of reasons why they can't always talk to families about their loved ones' health. To start with, there are security issues to consider - the staff must check who you are and if there are restrictions on them having contact with you.​

If you are cleared from a security point of view, the next big barrier is that your loved one has to give consent for the healthcare team to discuss their medical information with you. Of course, some people prefer to keep this private – and if your loved one refuses to give permission for you to know about their confidential health information, the healthcare teams must respect their wishes. Otherwise, they'd be breaking the legal frameworks and professional guidance that all healthcare staff have to follow.​

There are exceptional circumstances in which confidential information can legally be disclosed without consent – however, these are extremely rare. Of course, there might also be other reasons why you can't get information (for example, staff capacity), but if your loved one doesn't give permission then you almost certainly won't get information out of the prison regarding their health. 

Our top tips

  • Ask your loved one to give consent for their health information to be shared with you. Explain why this would be beneficial and talk through any concerns with them. Ask them to request that their consent be noted on their records. This means they will have to speak to medical staff themselves.​
  • Concentrate on getting information into the prison, rather than getting it out. Consent is not required for you to tell the healthcare team about your loved one's medical history, their needs, risk-factors etc. ​
  • Check the rules for yourself - this short guide has a summary of the legal instruments and policies that healthcare staff have to follow on patient consent, data protection and privacy.​
  • Call the Prisoners' Families Helpline on 0808 808 2003 for confidential support, information and advice.