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Public Health professionals are rightly concerned about prison health
care which has been the responsibility of the NHS since April 2006.
Elderly prisoners form a small percentage of the total number but are
disproportionately high users of health care resources. Many older
prisoners are serving life or indeterminate sentences for serious
offences, so can be expected to grow old in prison and may die there.
We have carried out a combined quantative and qualatative cross
sectional survey of the health needs of 181 older life sentence prisoners,
including a semi structured interview by one researcher (NM)(unpublished
Respondents were aged 55 to 82 years (mean 64) and mean length of
sentence served at the time of interview was 8.3 years. All had been
convicted of either murder or serious sexual offences. 83% of those
interviewed were smokers, 73% had hypertension, 61% had ischaemic heart
disease, 43% had chronic lung disease and 59% were prescribed 4 or more
items of medication. Median Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) score was
25/30. 92% had Barthel scores indicating that they were currently
Older life sentence prisoners have a very high burden of chronic ill
health and exhibit numerous risk factors for future illness and longer
term disability. By the nature of the offences which they have committed
they will spend many years in prison.
Perhaps the Government should follow the US model and build prison
nursing homes to meet the projected future needs of this group. This may
be a better solution to overcrowding than using police cells.