Pharmacists are being invited to tender for an £8.5m contract to provide pharmacy services to prisons in Scotland.
The contract, which will run from May 2018, is to deliver a full professional pharmacy service — including supplies and dispensing, with a particular focus on the treatment of offenders with hepatitis C. It covers all 15 prisons within the nine health boards in Scotland.
The invitation comes as health services for the prisoner population in Scotland have been put under the political spotlight by Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) — and found to be wanting.
Last year an inquiry into healthcare in prisons by the Scottish government’s health and sport committee concluded that the health needs of the prisoner population were “underserved”.
Tom Byrne is national prisons pharmacy adviser at Healthcare Improvement Scotland where he advises the government and health boards about the pharmacy service in prisons. He is also a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) secure environment pharmacists group.
He agreed that pharmacy remained an untapped resource in the prison service — a view reinforced by RPS Scotland in its evidence in February 2017 to the health and sport committee’s inquiry.
Byrne told the Pharmaceutical Journal that pharmacy services were being underused in the prison service which he described as a “unique environment”.
He said pharmacists — especially those who have prescribing status — were particularly well placed to provide support with mental health, addiction services and management of long-term conditions.
“People [in the prison system] experience long-term conditions at a younger age,” Byrne said.
“You are working with a captive population, so that means you can work with people and make sure they take their medicines as they should do. There is a lot of polypharmacy that people can pick up as well as having a role to play in the shortage of GP services.”
Pharmacists working in prisons face special challenges and have to be especially mindful of the potential currency which medicines have in the prisoner population, he pointed out.
That issue was also picked up by the RPS in its evidence to MSPs when it highlighted the “considerable pressures” on the prison prescribing system.
It told MSPs that some medicines were “high value currency items leading to inappropriate requests for specific prescriptions for which there is no clinical requirement”.
Matt Barclay, director of operations at Community Pharmacy Scotland — the organisation which represents community pharmacy owners in Scotland — said community pharmacists would potentially be interested in the contract and had a lot to offer the prisoner population, provided they had the expertise to deliver services effectively.
The NHS took over responsibility for prisoner health in Scotland in 2011 when the service was transferred from the prison service.
But the report by MSPs published in May 2017 said that the expected improvements in prisoner healthcare had not materialised.
Its report said: “We do not accept the suggestion or expectation that progress and change within the health service takes a long period of time. It does not need to if the will is there and, sadly, within prison healthcare this has been conspicuous by its absence at senior management levels.”
Pharmacists interested in tendering for the prison contract are being invited to a presentation day in Glasgow on 9 March 2018. Interest in attending the event has to be registered by 23 February 2018.