Jail officer’s fear: ‘Someone is going to die’
WOMEN prisoners are being taken to hospital for headaches and indigestion in trips costing up to $2000 because a north Queensland jail doesn't have nurses working at night, angry officers say.
Concerns have also been raised that a pregnant woman, or a child, at Townsville women's jail might not get urgent medical attention because there is no nurse between 6pm and 6am.
A single trip to hospital for a non-issue could cost taxpayers up to $2000, according to hospital and corrective services figures.
Prison officers say the jail - which last week had 167 women behind bars - has not had a night nurse for two years.
The jail also had nine young children living with their jailed mothers.
"Someone is going to die," an officer told The Courier-Mail.
"Officers should not take the rap for this, the issue is a massive expense to the government.
"Ambos are called for any ailment, it could just be a headache
"Two custodial officers usually have to go to the hospital."
Prison officers said most of the women in the jail were indigenous.
"Prisoners have to push their button in their cell, the intercom then calls the person in the master control room, they have to get in touch with a supervisor who has to make a decision and go down there and talk to them," an officer said.
"In total, it could take an hour for an ambulance to arrive."
Many jails across the state have night nurses.
The Courier-Mail has been told at least three other jails around the state don't have night nurses.
Officers said prisoners were presented at emergency departments, with usually one officer in the ambulance and one following in a car behind.
Figures show the average cost of admitted and non-admitted emergency department presentations in Queensland was $652 in 2016-17.
The cost of having to replace two officers on an escort could be up to $1500 on one instance, because staff are paid overtime when on a day off.
The issue comes despite Queensland Health launching campaigns such as Keep Emergency for Emergencies to stop hospitals being clogged up for unnecessary medical reasons.
A plan to scrap the night nurse at Maryborough jail was put on hold pending a review of Townsville's situation after Corrections Minister Mark Ryan, Health Minister Steven Miles and the Together Union recently met.
The union's industrial services director Michael Thomas said it was vital Queensland Health provided adequate care to prisoners but it also needed to ensure ambulances were not being taken away from the community unnecessarily.
"We have long standing concerns but as a result of the issues being raised, most recently in Maryborough, there has been a commitment to review the provision of health services across the state," he said.
Queensland Health says it provides primary care similar to a GP while emergency care is dealt with by the hospital and, with the prison locked down at night, a nurse is not required.
Townsville Hospital and Health Service chief executive Kieran Keyes said there was no plan to put a nurse on night shift however the hospital would continue to monitor health requirements of prisoners and would talk to staff and unions.
"There has never been a situation where a woman from the Townsville Women's Correctional Centre has given birth at the prison since the health service has been managed by the Townsville Hospital and Health Service," he said when asked how the prison was prepared if a woman was to go into labour.
"Health and prison staff are trained to identify early signs of labour and in that event an ambulance would be called, and they would be transferred to the Townsville University Hospital."