Aims and objectives: To provide a systematic overview of the policy and practice literature concerned with the primary healthcare needs of prisoners in England and Wales and to address the implications of these health needs for nurses working in prisons.
Background: The recent reorganization of the prison healthcare system, which has brought prison health services in England and Wales within the National Health Service, has major implications for the role of prison nurses. Nurses in prisons are increasingly providing services to promote the health of prisoners, in addition to making assessments of health need and treating health problems.
Methods: The review examined literature from 1995 to date using standard review techniques adapted to be both sensitive and inclusive and with high recall because of the unexplored nature of primary health care in prisons.
Results: Findings are identified in three main areas: the general health needs of prisoners, health promotion and chronic disease management. In all these areas, the health needs of the prison population are much greater than the community as a whole, resulting in a high demand for primary care services in prison. However, the prison setting can militate against providing good primary care services in prison.
Conclusions: More research has been carried out into the health needs of prisoners than into the provision of primary care nursing services in prisons. Further research is needed into primary care nursing in prison to meet the health needs of prisoners effectively.
Relevance to clinical practice: With the reorganization of prison health services, health provision in prisons is increasingly primary care focused. This presents new challenges to nurses working in prison to provide a primary care service, which meets the identified health needs of prisoners.