Healthcare staff at a young offenders institute are feeling “over-stretched and stressed” because of their high workload, an inspection has found.
Prison inspectors described this is a “key concern” and said that reducing the increased demands on nursing time and resources should be treated as a priority at HMP Young Offenders Institute (YOI) Grampian.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS) carried out a liaison visit to the facility in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, on November 4-5 2020.
The visits are carried out to provide assurance to ministers and the wider public that scrutiny of the treatment and conditions in which prisoners are held has been continued during the pandemic.
Inspectors said that HMP YOI Grampian was performing strongly in its handling of Covid-19 risks and there was clear evidence of appropriate action being taken to minimise transmission risks.
However, they said that recruitment challenges and staff absences remain a concern for healthcare staff despite the ongoing commitment from the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership to seek solutions for staffing.
The report stated: “While there are wellbeing support structures in place, our discussions with staff revealed that some staff are very stressed due to the high workload and requirement to undertake additional duties due to the shortfall of staff.
“The impact of continuing to work under significant staffing pressure, together with additional demands on nursing staff, had led to an increase in work-related stress and sickness within the nursing staff group.
“As previously said in the report, given the challenges in recruiting nursing staff, the partnership should as a priority look at ways to reduce the increased demands on nursing time and resources.”
Inspectors encouraged the partnership to implement the agreed proposal to recruit a pharmacy team to “free” up nursing staff time and improve the pharmacy service.
They said that there is an urgent need to address the nursing and pharmacy staffing concerns and secure a controlled drugs licence.
Inspectors said there was evidence of good communication, between the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and NHS and that the strength of the relationships between the SPS, NHS and external parties around pre-release planning was highly commendable.
However, they said that the backlog in prisoners awaiting offender behaviour programmes is a “serious concern” and urged SPS to address this as quickly as possible.
The report stated: “HMIPS are aware that the SPS are working to address these issues, but the adverse impact on prisoners’ prospects when seeking parole and on efforts to address and demonstrate risk reduction cannot be underestimated.
“Nor can the impact on the mental health of prisoners when they can see their own prospects diminished by a lack of such opportunities.”
Mark Simpson, partnership manager for North Aberdeenshire, said: “The healthcare team at HMP Grampian work exceptionally hard, dealing with some very complex cases and their dedication and commitment is a credit to their profession.
“Due to the highly specialised nature of the job it has been hard to recruit more staff to join the team. But we continue to explore every avenue and look at new and creative solutions to support the team already in place and attract more healthcare professionals to join them.
“We have come a long way and working with the team at the prison have made significant positive changes both for the staff and for those we care for.”
The issuing of controlled drug licences sits with the Home Office and it is understood a compliance visit from them is awaited, though such visits are currently suspended.
An SPS spokesman said the report recognises a generally improving picture and the work being done by the prison to manage what has been a very challenging situation.
SPS said that programme delivery across the prison estate has been affected by the pandemic.
The spokesman said: “There has been a lot of effort put in to try and provide activities for prisoners but some of the normal activity has been disrupted by Covid.”