Sponsored: I have never felt safer than when working with prisoners

Published on: 5 Apr 2023

Dr Lisa Brown, Practice Plus Group Lead GP at HMP Five Wells and Regional Medical Lead for the East Midlands. 

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I have never felt safer than when working with prisoners. 

I’ll never forget, as a junior doctor in hospital, seeing how some healthcare staff treated prisoners in a different way to other patients. The prisoners weren’t being aggressive or difficult, but the very fact they were in handcuffs and accompanied by prison officers sometimes led to them being regarded differently.  

That was when I knew I wanted to work in prisons and to make a difference to the lives of these often-vulnerable people, many of whom are marginalised by society and have complex health needs.

When I qualified as a GP in 2013, I worked both as a community GP and in prisons, before choosing prisons full-time four years ago. Last year I joined Practice Plus Group as Lead GP at HMP Five Wells, a new ‘super prison’, and as the East Midlands Regional Medical Lead for seven prisons. 

I find working in prisons both challenging and incredibly rewarding, and gain personal job satisfaction from knowing that my patients are grateful and appreciative of the healthcare they receive. I treat everyone the same, regardless of their offence. If they know I’m not judging them, and that I feel comfortable sat in a room alone with them, they will feel more settled talking to me and open up about their health concerns. This in turn will lead to them having a better experience of healthcare. 

There’s never a dull moment- you never know what is going to walk through your door. It’s a combination of community GP, A&E, substance misuse, urgent care… it’s varied, you work within close-knit teams and have time to spend with your patients. In addition, there is dedicated admin time and an actual lunch break! 

As a prison GP, you work in an environment where your individual safety is a priority and risk is continuously assessed . – If needed, I can press a button on the wall and prison officers will come running . I actually feel safer working in prisons than I ever did in a community GP setting, where you’re isolated in a room with just you and your patient. In 10 years, I have never yet had to press the emergency alarm button.

In prisons, you're part of a big team and support is always on hand if you need it. There are specialist nurses, dentists, physios, podiatry, psychiatrists, and psychologists all easily accessible and often under the same roof at the same time. It’s fantastic to work as part of such a varied team providing holistic care.

Some of our patients have been previously reluctant to access healthcare, and being able to contribute to encouraging their future engagement and help them in making healthier choices is very rewarding. 

It’s a very niche environment and it’s certainly not for everyone. But those who enjoy it really flourish in it. There are also endless opportunities for career development throughout the Practice Plus Group healthcare team, as part of a network of over 45 prisons around the country.

Practice Plus Group are very supportive of upskilling existing staff to reach their own personal aspirations of where they want to be.

Refreshingly, there’s a ‘no blame’ culture and no fear of reprisals; just open and honest people working together to make improvements every day and to always do things better. 

It’s the perfect fit for me and I’d strongly encourage GPs to come and work with us.