09 May 2018
Icon - Day in the Life

Providing healthcare in the justice business

This blog features an interview with Barbara Ellis from Sodexo Justice Services.

What is a day like – is there such a thing as a typical day? If not, why?

It’s always varied – we provide all aspects of primary care, just as we would in the community, as well as other elements of healthcare such as emergency response, making us ‘primary care plus’! We deal with a high number of people with drug and addiction issues, many of whom have very chaotic lives in regular society. In the prison we are able to provide much of the support needed to help them try to get their health under control, giving them more of a chance of success upon release.

What kind of people do you deal with?

They’re just like anyone else, as we would meet in society! It’s an incredibly busy site and, being dual gender, brings a very wide range of health needs for both male and female residents.

What sort of challenges does working in the prison bring?

Many of the people we look after have limited levels of contact with healthcare systems outside of the prison, as well as high levels of need – such as drug and alcohol addiction, blood-borne viruses, chronic diseases and mental health issues. And we still have people with all of the conditions you would find in the community, such as cancer and any other illness.

Do you find it frightening working in the prison?

No! I’ve been working in prisons for over 20 years, including in the high security estate.

You’re going to meet the same types of people in the prison as you would meet somewhere like A&E or primary care centres. In here you always know that, should you need it, there is support available from officers and other members of staff. Working in A&E, for example, you have to deal with whoever comes through the door with no prior knowledge of them – it’s pretty much the same here, but a more controlled environment.

What makes the job so rewarding?

We take pride in providing good quality care to our patient group, in just the same way as our colleagues in the community do. Making positive in-roads for the health of people we care for, using their time in custody as an opportunity to manage and treat their conditions, and educating them about their own health, allows us to enable them to better manage their own health upon return to life outside the prison.

Why would you encourage somebody to come and work in healthcare behind bars?

It’s a good career choice and very interesting. You get to demonstrate your skillset in a wide variety of areas – whether clinical or management, or both. We work in a multi-disciplinary way and support each other well in teams across the prison, beyond healthcare. Our learning and development provision for healthcare staff provides excellent professional upskilling.

What kind of person would work well within a prison?

It’s more than just the right skillset. We want people who are motivated, resilient and want to make a real difference. You need to be able to show compassion and care, while retaining strong professional boundaries and a non-judgemental approach. You need to be comfortable working as part of a team, but also confident in autonomous practice.

It’s not the easiest job in the world, but it can be incredibly rewarding. It’s challenging, exciting and fast-paced – no two days are ever the same. It’s not for everybody, but I’ve done it for over 20 years and I wouldn’t swap it for anything!

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