Older prisoners may be missing out on physiotherapy assessments

Too few older prisoners are being assessed by physiotherapists, according to Janet Thomas, who chairs Agile, the CSP-endorsed professional network for physios working with older people.

She was commenting on Older prisoners, a report published in September by MPs on the all-party justice committee.

It points out that older prisoners are the fastest growing group in the prison population, with those aged over 60 growing by 120 per cent from 2002 to 2013.

During the same period the number aged from 50 to 59 rose by 100 per cent.

‘Older prisoners should be able to access the same level of healthcare as older adults, but the report makes it plain that this access is at best patchy,’ said Ms Thomas.

‘It is worrying that access to medication may be limited. Some conditions, such as Parkinson’s, require careful timing of medications throughout the day - without this, symptoms may be significantly worse.’

Ms Thomas welcomed the report’s acknowledgement that some prisoners appear to be receiving a physiotherapy assessment of their mobility needs.

‘It would appear that this often may not be the case even for quite frail older adults,’ she noted.

‘The recommendation that older prisoners should be assessed for their needs prior to allocation to prison is a commonsense idea.

It would at least ensure that prisoners with the most access and mobility needs are not sent to older prisons which appear to be totally unsuitable for someone with a disability.

‘Similarly, the recommendation regarding assessment for health and social care needs is welcome, but the report is not clear about who would do this assessment and if this would require the skills of a physiotherapist or any other allied health professional.’

Stressing that the health and social care needs of older prisoners are not all the same, the MPs’ report notes: ‘It is broadly recognised that many prisoners have the biological characteristics of those who are 10 years older than them; they may have chronic health and mental health disorders as well as disabilities which, in the community, would be typical among those who are significantly older.

This is not the case amongst all older prisoners and there are many people who remain active and involved in the prison regime well into old age.’

Ms Thomas said a Frontline article had described how innovative programmes can help prisoners with long-term conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (‘No bar to treatment’, 19 June).

‘Perhaps this report highlights the need for this type of service to be mirrored to the older prison population with frailty and mobility problems.

As with any older adult, regular physical activity is important for healthy ageing – a particular problem in a prison setting where access to engage in exercise and physical activity may be limited.

Ms Thomas added: ‘Physios are ideally placed to advise and create exercise programmes for individuals that can be carried on within a prison environment that targets one of the root causes of this accelerated ageing.’

More information

To find out more about visit AGILE, and to download the report, visit House of Commons Justice Committee/Older Prisioners

Ian A McMillan

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