INMATES at Limerick Prison are being placed in a “very dangerous and unjust situation” as major cutbacks have been imposed on medical staff in the Mulgrave Street jail.
Sources close to the prison have told the Limerick Leader that tensions are on the rise due to the terms and conditions of medical staff at the jail, with professionals on long-serving, 24-hour contracts “effectively being bullied out of their jobs”.
No doctor is currently on call to cover the needs of inmates in an emergency from 9am-6pm, due to an ongoing dispute centring on a contract entered into 10 years ago, with the Irish Prison Service (IPS) re-enforcing terms and conditions more heavily in recent months.
It is understood that there have been numerous cases in recent weeks where the doctor has not been called to prescribe medication to inmates, with nursing staff being told to send prisoners to the University Hospital instead.
When contacted by the Limerick Leader, Dr Ronan Ryder, of the Old Windmill Medical Centre, on Lower Gerald Griffin Street, who has been serving the prison for 20 years, said he was relieved that the issue has been brought into the public domain.
“I am glad that this terrible situation is now in the public domain. I agree with the nursing staff that the situation is unsafe.”
“The morale of the nursing staff has never been so low. They are overworked and are having to take responsibilities way beyond the call of duty.
“I appreciate that they have concerns regarding the health and safety of prisoners, so do I, but I also have concerns over the health and safety of the nursing staff.”
Dr Ryder explained that up until recently prison doctors were being paid to provide 24 hour medical cover to Irish prisons. However, the department in the recent past are only paying prison doctors for time spent in the prison, therefore once the prison doctor finishes his rounds in the morning there is no medical cover available during the working day.
“I agree that this is unjust and unsafe. The prison health service should at least mimic what is available in the community. The situation needs to be addressed urgently.”
In a statement to this newspaper, the IPS said the contract is for 15 hours per week, for three hours over five days from Monday to Friday.
“The doctor is on call during the hours outside of those periods. The contract was entered into in 2004. The annual remuneration is currently €103,000 for a 39 hour week. The contract is similar to that in other prisons where prison doctors are employed. It is the intention of IPS to provide for the attendance of a medical practitioner three hours a day Monday to Friday,” they stated.
The €103,000 figure, however, refers to a full-time wage, and not Dr Ryder’s remuneration.
The IPS said they could do disclose further details regarding the contracts due to data protection issues.
Staff at the prison said the work is now falling on the shoulders of nursing staff, which in some cases is putting them in difficulty as it is “beyond their scope”, and in other cases, inmates are being “inappropriately” brought to the A&E department at the University Hospital, under the supervision of prison officers for hours at the time, at a greater cost to the State.
Many of the medical cases at Limerick Prison are largely related to drug withdrawal.