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Watchdog savages mental health services in prisons as suicides behind bars hit record high

Watchdog savages mental health services in prisons as suicides behind bars hit record high

Emilio Casalicchio

2 min read

Ministers have no idea how many prisoners in England and Wales are suffering from mental illness despite record suicide rates, according to a damning new report.

Neither does the Government know how much cash it spends on mental health behind bars or whether its objectives are being met, the National Audit Office said.

In a new report the Government's official spending watchdog said failures in data collection and communication with health services meant it was “hard to see” if value for money was being achieved.

The Liberal Democrats branded the provision of mental health care in prisons a “ticking time bomb”.

A record 119 suicides were recorded behind bars in 2016 - while self-harm in jails has soared by 73% between 2012 and 2016.

Some 70% of those who killed themselves between 2012 and 2014 had mental health needs, a Prisons and Probation Ombudsman report concluded last year.

But the NAO today said neither the prison service - alongside the NHS - does not collect enough or good enough data to navigate the issue effectively.

It said funding cuts since the Tories came to power - including cut-backs in staffing - had led to more prisoners spending time in cells where monitoring and access to services cannot take place.

The watchdog also lamented communications failures that delay the setting up of mental health operations - including one prison that went at least six months without a fully functioning service.

Meanwhile 7% of prisoners suffering with mental illness had to wait 140 days to be admitted to a secure hospital in 2016/17. The transfer target is 14 days.


NAO boss Amyas Morse said: “The data on how many people in prison have mental health problems and how much government is spending to address this is poor.

“Consequently government do not know the base they are starting from, what they need to improve, or how realistic it is for them to meet their objectives.

"Without this understanding it is hard to see how government can be achieving value for money.”

He added: “Improving the mental health of those in prison will require a step change in effort and resources.

“The quality of clinical care is generally good for those who can access it, but the rise in prisoner suicide and self-harm suggests a decline in mental health and well-being overall.”

Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “The failure to ensure that prisoners receive proper mental health care both in prison and after release is creating a ticking time bomb.

“Too many prisoners with serious mental health problems are being allowed to slip through the cracks, often with tragic consequences.”


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