OFFENDERS have spoken out about their battles with poor mental health and addiction while incarcerated at a prison in Essex.

A report published by the charity Healthwatch Essex focuses on the experiences of current and former inmates at HMP Chelmsford.

It suggested the number of people entering prison with addiction issues is “highly significant”, leading to other issues like homelessness and poor physical health.

Staff and prisoners at the prison in Chelmsford told the charity that paper products are forbidden from being brought into the facility in case they are coated with spice, a substance containing one or more synthetic cannabinoids which mimics the effects of cannabis.

It is also claimed that hand sanitiser is carefully monitored in case the alcohol content is consumed.

'The help isn't good enough'

A serving prisoner, referred to as Matt, told Healthwatch Essex about his struggles with alcoholism after being mentally and physically abused as a child.

He said: “As soon as I pick up the first drink, I cannot stop. My mind never stops with the memories and the flashbacks. But when I drink, it does.

“The mental health team in prison do what they can but it’s nowhere near enough.”

The dad-of-two also claimed that prison staff have previously “forgotten” to give him his mental health medication and put on his records that he had “refused it”.

Despite the criticism he said he finds the structure and stability of prison reassuring.

'No support for mental health'

Another prisoner, referred to as Toby, has two years left of his sentence and told the charity he feels the lack of mental health support for inmates at HMP Chelmsford is a major issue.

He claimed: “Lots of prisoners sell their prescribed medications to other prisoners because they have no money, but then this of course affects their health negatively.

“There is no mental health support in prison. Shortly after I went inside, a mental health nurse asked me how I was. I said I was ok, so she took me off her list and I’ve heard nothing since.”

The report also highlighted the difficulties some inmates have accessing essential healthcare services like GPs and dentists.

What does the NHS say?

Mid and South Essex Integrated Care Board, which is responsible for organising health provisions in Chelmsford, said it will “review the report and work with stakeholders including Healthwatch” to address the issues.

Healthcare at the prison is provided by CRG Medical Services which is commissioned to provide services on behalf of the NHS.

A spokesperson said: “We are commissioned to provide healthcare at HMP Chelmsford and work collaboratively with the prison management team and NHS England to ensure that patients receive high quality, equitable and timely care.

“Men that arrive at HMP Chelmsford are health screened as part of the reception process and where mental health needs are identified, appropriate care will be arranged.

“Any patient with mental health needs can request an appointment to access help from our team of highly trained and experienced nurses and doctors.”

Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) said it stopped providing a dedicated mental health service at HMP Chelmsford in March 2019 following a strategic review of operations.

A spokesperson said: “Although we no longer run the dedicated mental health service at HMP Chelmsford, we continue to provide an in-reach psychiatry service and accept referrals for prisoners as part of our offer of specialist mental health care.

“In addition we provide a range of services focussed on improving access to physical, mental and social care for marginalised and vulnerable adults, reducing health inequalities and working with partners to support patients through every step of their care and recovery.”

EPUT provides a range of specialist services to support marginalised and vulnerable adults including ex-offenders, people within the criminal justice system, people experiencing homelessness and service users living with drug and alcohol misuse and addiction.

These include the Health Outreach, Rough Sleeper, Health and Justice teams and Essex Specialist Treatment and Recovery Service (Essex STaRS).