Improving care for terminally ill prisoners


New research by the University of Melbourne and St Vincent’s Hospital has identified opportunities to improve palliative care for people in prison with terminal illnesses. Source: Persuit.

With an increasing and ageing prisoner population, there are now more people who are likely to face their end of life in prison. Of those prisoners who die in Victoria, approximately 38 per cent will spend their final weeks or months of life in a secure, guarded public hospital ward.

The research uncovered the opportunities perceived by health professionals to improve the models of care for prisoners dying with progressive and life-limiting illnesses.

Recently published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, the researchers explored the perspectives of public hospital-employed doctors, nurses and allied health staff from a range of disciplines about their experiences of providing care for dying prisoners in the public hospital setting.

Health professionals described obstacles faced by people in prison across a range of areas of care, and for themselves, as they strove to provide optimal end-of-life care for prisoners.

They described the challenges in providing access to the best pain relief and facilitating death in a desired site of care. They also described a system which at times requires prisoners to forgo their minimum-security incarceration and be transferred to a maximum-security facility in order to access specialist hospital care.

Health professionals also identified the opportunities for improved clarity of protocols around some of the processes for dying prisoners – such as allowances to remove shackles when providing care, as well as considerations for healthcare professionals in advocating for compassionate release.


Caring for the terminally ill in prison (By Dr Stacey Panozzo, Professor Jennifer Philip and Dr Anna Collins, University of Melbourne and St Vincent’s Hospital, Persuit

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