Pregnant prisoners are giving birth in their cells, claims the Nuffield Trust in a new report – sparking concerns around ‘inadequate’ maternity care in prison.
Just over one in ten of women who give birth in prison in do so either in their cell or en route to hospital, according to the report released yesterday (27 February) looking at patient hospital records at 112 prisons in 2017/18.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has warned that imprisoning pregnant women risks their life and the life of their unborn child following the findings.
‘The report has confirmed the RCM’s concerns that many pregnant women in prison are giving birth in their cells and are not receiving safe or adequate or maternity care in prison,’ said the College.
Of the 56 prisoners who gave birth in 2017/18, six gave birth before they reached the hospital, the research found.
It also revealed that one in five (22%) of pregnant prisoners missed midwife appointments and one-third (30%) missed obstetric appointments, compared to 14% and 17% for the general population respectively.
‘Prisons are not equipped’
‘Prisons are not equipped to meet the needs of women in labour,’ stated the report.
They are not staffed with round-the-clock midwives and there is no range to pain relief options that a woman might use if she gave birth in hospital, it said.
It called for data on pregnancies and births in prison to be published and for births in prison to be independently reviewed.
‘Maternal and new-born healthcare should not be compromised by imprisonment,’ said RCM policy advisor Charlotte Wilson, responding to the report.
‘We know some pregnant women have reported receiving inadequate healthcare during their pregnancy while in detention which can put the life of their unborn baby at risk too.’
Ms Wilson said that women’s prisons must work with their local NHS trusts and health boards to introduce specialist midwifery care for pregnant prisoners.
She also called for custodial sentencing to be minimised for pregnant women and new mothers.
‘It’s also crucial judges and magistrates fully understand the impact of any proposed sentenced,’ she added.
Prisoners use hospital services far less than the general population overall and had 40% more non-attended or cancelled appointments, the report also found.
This included 24% fewer inpatient admissions and outpatient attendances than the average population, and 45% fewer accident and emergency department attendances.
Commenting on the research, lead author and senior fellow at the Nuffield Trust Dr Miranda Davies said: ‘The punishment of being in prison should not extend to curbing people’s rights to healthcare.
‘Yet our analysis suggests that prisoners are missing out on potentially vital treatment and are experiencing many more cancelled appointments than non-prisoners.’