Ministry for Health (in Catalonia and the Basque Country)
Social organisations are campaigning for the responsibility for healthcare to be transferred to the Autonomous Communities. This would facilitate the co-ordination of healthcare programmes (transfer of medical records, continuity of care, etc.). Legislation enacted in 2003 would allow this transfer to take place, however this has only happened in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
A primary care team is present in each prison, providing outpatient services. The team consists of at least one general medical practitioner and two nurses. Psychiatrists, dentists and occasionally pharmacists may also be available. Other specialists (e.g. ophthalmologists, gynaecologists, dermatologists etc.) are rarely present. Patients suffering from certain conditions are taken to hospital.
There are insufficient doctors available. Requests for medical consultations are subject to delays. Sixteen out of 82 establishments have a pharmacy on site1.
Each prison is attached to a particular hospital, which must be equipped with a secure unit to receive patients (hospital beds with a police guard).
Access to health care
Health care is free
A medical examination is performed upon admission
New inmates undergo blood tests and other medical examinations. The CPT recommends that all establishments keep a register of injuries sustained by inmates before their admission or during their detention.
A medical file is opened upon admission
Prisoners can access health care units after
an oral request
Verbal requests addressed to the prison guards are not dealt with promptly. The CPT delegation received complaints from inmates in all of the prisons they visited. The CPT recommends that inmates should be able to engage directly and confidentially with healthcare service providers. They suggest the installation of a letterbox, managed by the healthcare provider.
Medical examinations are carried out on a confidential basis
in most cases
Medical confidentiality is not guaranteed when the patient is examined in the hospital setting. The presence of police officers during diagnostic consultations has been reported.
Results of tests are not given directly to the patient. There are cases of female inmates refusing to have a gynaecological examination due to the presence of prison guards in the consultation room.
Inmates must be allowed access to the same care that they would receive in the outside world. Social organisations have revealed that these rights are not respected. There is a clear inequality of access in this area.
The prison administration is responsible for the health of prisoners, according to the legislation, and must provide them with medication1.
General Secretariat of Penitentiary Institutions “Annual Report 2016”, 2017, pp. 147-165. (in Spanish) ↩
Physical health care
The most prevalent diseases are:
Inmates undergo a medical examination on arrival at the institution. The prevention of epidemic and communicable diseases is of utmost importance.
An x-ray is performed on all inmates who show the first symptoms of tuberculosis. A doctor performs this examination.
A needle exchange programme has been in place since 1997. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among users of injectable drugs is at 40%. Condoms are made available.
The review of this controversial programme shows that:
Drug use and injection does not increase
Risk behaviours and transmission of diseases (HIV, Hepatitis C) decrease
Positive health outcomes have been observed (drastic reduction in overdose cases)
A number of establishments vouch for the effectiveness of the programme
Mental health care
Psychiatric units within prisons are few and far between, despite the legal measures put in place. The two psychiatric prison facilities are in Seville and Alicante, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior.
Brians 1 prison, in Catalonia, has a psychiatric hospital unit. Brians II has a psychiatric rehabilitation unit that can house 22 patients. This prison also has an arrangement with the Sant Joan de Déu hospital, for the treatment of prisoners with serious mental health problems. These institutions are under the control of the Catalan Department for Justice.
A specific programme for people suffering from certain mental health issues (PAIEM, “Programa de Atención Integral a Enfermos Mentales”) was set up in 2005 by the prison administration.
The PAIEM programme is present in the majority of prisons. NGOs are involved in delivering the programme.
The Ombudsman has remarked on the programme’s deficiencies in most of the prisons it visited. Care is limited to diagnosis and drug therapy. Tailored therapy is not often provided.
In 2017, the Ministries for Health and Justice signed an agreement for the integration of mental health teams in all institutions. The Catalan Penitentiary Administration has promised to invest an additional 6.5 million euros from 2018 (18.5 million per year in total) to mental health.
The Ombudsman has noticed a lack of specialist personnel, notably in the prison psychiatric hospital in Seville. There are four vacancies for psychiatrists in the institution1.
Inmates with addictions receive special monitoring.
Inmates with addictions have particular services available:
• Smoking: the percentage of smokers among prisoners is higher than in the outside population. The prison administration has been increasing smoking information and awareness campaigns since 2012. It has organised conferences and individual cessation programmes. The length of the programmes varies between two and three months and the participants have a follow-up assessment at the end of their programme.
• Alcoholism: a programme provides awareness of the risks of excessive consumption of alcohol, suggests strategies to abstain and organises group workshops to motivate the patients.
• Drug addiction: the war on drugs is one of the key priorities of prison health programmes. Many intervention programmes have been developed around three fundamentally interdependent areas: prevention, assistance and social reintegration. Dedicated therapy areas have been set up. Inmates with drug dependencies can access substitute treatments, like methadone.