NHS staff working at Woodhill prison have admitted they cannot devote enough time to inmates at the suicide-plagued jail.
A Care Quality Commission report published this morning says urgent improvements are needed to ensure there are enough staff to deal with patients with mental health needs.
The CQC carried out the inspection in response to concerns raised about the number of deaths at the prison.
Over the past 13 months nine inmates have died, and since 2013 there have been 17 suicides.
Some of the grieving relatives have even launched a judicial review, claiming the high-security jail failed in measures to reduce risk of self-harm and prevent suicides among inmates.
The inspection, which was carried out over three days between September 20-27 in 2016, found that the mental health teams ‘must’ be fully staffed in order to meet the needs of prisoners.
The mental health team was made up of three registered nurses and an interim deputy head and a clinical lead for mental health.
Despite the report finding the team were ‘a committed and enthusiastic group of professionals’ - the CQC found that the small team were in effect delivering a ‘crisis’ service to the population of the prison as it did not use any agency staff.
Because of the staff shortages, the report stated there was ‘a potential risk that the management of patients’ mental illness may not be fully met’.
One area the prison was praised in response to the recent string of custody deaths however was extending a full health screening to all inmates who now arrived at the weekend.
Prisoners’ health, both physical and mental, is the responsibility of the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.
The trust’s clinical director of offender care, Dr Shamir Patel, said: “We accept this CQC report and what it requires us to do, but we also welcome it; there needs to be a focus on improvement across the whole prison system.
“It’s been a very hard time at the prison with the high number of deaths and we share the concerns of all the families who have lost loved ones and it is them we are thinking of now.”
The trust admits that due to staff shortages it was unable to provide regular ‘face to face’ work with patients.
Dr Patel said: “Urgent attention is required and this report is a very good place to start.”
He added: “We have worked well with a range of partners - including our commissioners at NHS England as well as the senior prison management within HMP Woodhill.
“As part of work to improve mental health resources, NHS England have agreed additional funding.
“The report spells out many good ways shared learning takes place but also points up some weaknesses.
“They say our staff are a ‘committed and enthusiastic group of professionals’, which is the essential foundation of good care.”