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Standards for health services in Australian prisons

Criterion 1.2.1 Health service information

Our service provides patients with adequate information about our service to facilitate access to care.


Indicators

A. Our health service information sheet or familiarisation process is available to prisoners and includes (document review):

  • a feature that distinguishes any written material as belonging to the health service
  • only family names not first names of staff providing clinical care (if our health service deems it appropriate to include the names of staff on the information sheet)
  • our consulting hours and arrangements for care outside our service’s normal opening hours
  • an explanation of how individuals can contact the health service directly to make an appointment
  • an explanation of the arrangements in place for interpreters
  • an explanation of the relationship between the health service and the prison’s management company and/or the relevant government department
  • an explanation of how to provide feedback or complain to the health service
  • the health service’s policy on the use of patient health information.

B. Our health service information sheet is prepared and provided to individuals by our health service staff (document review, interview).

C. Our staff can describe how essential information is provided to patients who are unable to read or understand our written information sheet (interview).


Explanation

Providing written information about the health service informs patients of the range of services provided by the health service. It is important that the information sheet is clearly marked as relating to the health service (as opposed to the prison) through the use of logos or other branding symbols. Health service staff should establish alternative communication mechanisms for patients who have limited literacy skills or a visual impairment. The best time for providing information about the health service should be considered by health service staff (eg. doing so immediately at reception into the prison may lead to information overload particularly for those being incarcerated for the first time).

Health services may decide that their information sheet should include only family names (not first names) of staff providing clinical care. Issues relating to the security level of the prison may determine the way in which the names of staff are presented to patients. Referring to staff by title (eg ‘doctor’ or ‘nurse’) may be one way of ensuring formality and maintaining professional boundaries between staff and patients in the prison.

It is important that patients are encouraged to provide feedback to the health service and an explanation in the information sheet about how they can do this signifies the health service welcomes feedback.

Because there are a number of parties involved in the healthcare of people in prisons, it is important that the health service be transparent about the relationship between the service and other parties (eg. the relevant government department). This will assist in increasing trust between patients and staff in the health service. This parallels the situation in general practice, where there needs to be transparency between general practices and any other service with which the practice has contractual agreements (eg. pathology and imaging services).

Where a health service serves defined ethnic communities, it is appropriate to make written information available in the most common languages used by the health service population – this is one way in which the health service can provide healthcare in a culturally appropriate manner (see Criterion 2.1.1: Respectful and culturally appropriate care). This is particularly important for health services in prisons where patients come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and where there are patients who may be unfamiliar with the way healthcare is provided in Australian prisons.

Privacy of patient health information is particularly important for health services in prisons. Patients need to be informed that their health information will be treated as private and confidential and – subject to disclosures required or authorised by law – will only be released to third parties on a ‘need to know’ basis:

  • with the consent of the prisoner, or
  • in the interest of the prisoner’s welfare, or
  • where maintaining confidentiality may jeopardise the safety of others or the good order and security of the prison.15

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