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A study of psychotropic medication prescribing patterns in prisons in England and Wales

28 March 2012

A research team, based at the Offender Health Research Network (OHRN) in Manchester, is investigating patterns of prescribing drugs to inmates in prisons in England and Wales. The study has been funded through the researcher-led workstream of the NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) programme.

Prisoners are entitled to the same range and standard of healthcare services as patients in the community and the NHS became responsible for these services in 2006. This provision includes mental health care. This represents a significant element of provision, given that prisoners are known  to  be more likely to have mental illness than the general population. International studies have shown that prescriptions for medicines such as antidepressants and antipsychotics are elevated in incarcerated populations in comparison to the community. They also vary among different demographic groups. However, little is known about these prescribing patterns in UK prisons.

This study will attempt to establish the pattern of prescribing of particular drugs known as ‘psychotropic’ medications in England and Wales by describing the types of medication, doses and costs. It will compare this information to that for the wider community, between different types of prisons, and different demographic groups in prison such as women, older prisoners and Black and minority ethnic groups. It will then look into the appropriateness of the prescribing and try to determine the acceptability of these medications to inmates and their healthcare professionals. It will achieve this through the use of a questionnaire survey.

Professor Jennifer Shaw, the chief investigator for the team said, “This study should enable us to make recommendations which will improve the equity, quality and safety of psychotropic medication prescribing in prisons. We will do this in line with current NHS guidance on good practice, identifying improvements that can be made for patient care as well as cost-savings that may be possible through the reduction of inappropriate, unnecessary and unwanted prescriptions”.

This project was commissioned by the NIHR Health Services Research (NIHR HSR) programme under the management of the National Institute for Health Research Evaluations, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC) based at the University of Southampton. 

View the project details

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The NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme is managed by the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC). NETSCC is part of the University of Southampton funded by the NIHR, with specific contributions from the CSO in Scotland and NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland.

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