I recently shared my experience as a senior prison nurse with the Justice Select Committee who were looking at the impact being in prison has on mental health, the impact of the pandemic on mental health and how mental health care can be improved in prisons.

I highlighted critical points for prison nursing such as the workforce crisis and staff vacancies.

The impact of COVID-19 on the prison service has been catastrophic

There’s currently no national benchmarking regarding the types of care needed in prisons. Every prison is very different, so we have this patchwork effect and pockets of very good standards of care, but there is no standard approach. This is because the service providers are all different.

I told the committee there needs to be a long-term strategy to increase nursing staff within the prison and justice service as we’re all fishing from the same pond. I made a point about the RCN’s recently launched Nursing Workforce Standards and focused on the care gaps we’re seeing, not just in prisons, but throughout nursing. It all has consequences on patient care.

The impact of COVID-19 on the prison service has been catastrophic. With many prisoners locked in one room for 23 hours a day and staff shortages, I’ve seen an increase in the use of anti-depressants and prisoners with anxiety. The long-term effect of the pandemic is still unknown.

Making powerful points

I was briefed before the event with support from the RCN and went on an RCN media course which gave helpful advice on how to reiterate your point and make sure you get a soundbite in – that’s something that will stick in the minds of those listening.

If we're not in the room then we're missing an opportunity

You can’t change the world in a day, but we can use every opportunity we have as a College to influence change and keep persevering. My evidence won’t see significant change immediately, but if we’re not in the room then we’re missing an opportunity. We need to bang the drum to represent nursing in prisons and prisoners.

Giving evidence to the select committee was a new experience for me, but I’d love to do it again. I felt listened to by the MPs and felt they were interested in what I had to say.

House of Parliament

What is a select committee?

Select committees are pretty influential. They’re cross-party groups of backbench MPs whose official job is to scrutinise the policy and operation of government departments. They summon and cross-examine witnesses and publish reports making recommendations on how policy can be improved. Simon attended as part of an online panel with experts from the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Simon’s tips for influencing change:

  1. join an RCN forum  joining is free and they are full of supportive people and specialists who can help you in your own work. I found my forum very supportive of my attendance at the select committee

  2. reiterate your point – this is very important, especially if you keep repeating your main points. It leaves no doubt for the listener to know what you want

  3. share your story – whether it’s on social media or through your forum, share your experience and suggest what can change. It will have an impact on others.

Simon Newman is a committee member of the RCN Nursing in Justice and Forensic Health Care Forum and head of healthcare at HMP Berwyn, Wales.

More on RCN forums

There are 31 RCN forums covering all aspects of nursing practice. Forums are free to join and provide a wealth of information including creating RCN guidance, organising conferences and sharing best practice.

Applications are now open until 9 August to appoint members to each of the RCN forum steering committees. Find out more.

Read next