All the basic daily tasks and activities in our prisons have been under-strain since the coronavirus lockdown. Prisoners have been unable to go to work, education, the gym, library or worship.
However, it has still (of course) been necessary to make sure that they receive their medication, usually a time-consuming process with many prisoners queuing up.
A new approach to distributing regular medicines was being trialled at HMP Dovegate before the pandemic, but has been accelerated by the demands of COVID-19.
The new Medical Distribution Lockers use a cutting-edge locker design with biometric access linked to the prison scheduling system. They allow prisoners to collect their ‘in-possession medicines’ without the need to be seen by a nurse or doctor, making social distancing easier and reducing the need for close personal contact.
Medicine is considered ‘in-possession’ if a person (usually in a prison or secure setting) is responsible for holding and taking it themselves and therefore delivery via a technological solution is within regulatory requirements. This means that prisoners do not have to queue for these medicines, reducing waiting times for all prisoners.
The solution has been developed with Serco, who run HMP Dovegate on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, with its partners Traka, who provided the locker; Unilink who designed and developed the software and Care UK our healthcare partners. It was developed and piloted in consultation with a number of interested stakeholders including custodial officers, the healthcare provider,nursing and pharmacy specialists, IT, engineering, FM and prisoners.
Serco report that feedback from the trial has been mainly positive with 80% of respondents finding the lockers easy to use and prisoners providing some constructive suggestions for further enhancements.
The lockers will now be rolled out across the prison and, we must hope, to other establishments as well.
As the prison population has aged over recent years, the use of medication in our prisons has increased considerably.
The lockers put me in mind of the automatic parcel collection lockers which are such a common sight in our cities now. I’m surprised that no-one has suggested dispensing mainstream community medication for houses in multiple occupation where posting them direct would be to risk interception.
It’s great to see a positive example of technical innovation in our prisons, now, if only they could get on with rolling out digital access across the estate…