Health: Positions for prison doctors often remain unfilled

Positions for prison medics often remain unfilled

Prison doctors fulfilled an important social task. photo

© Daniel Naupold/dpa

Drug problems and mental illnesses: Anyone who works as a prison doctor doesn’t exactly have to deal with the easiest patients. Doctors and nursing staff exchange ideas at a conference.

There are numerous vacant positions for prison doctors nationwide. It is becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee medical care for prisoners, said Berlin prison doctor Karlheinz Keppler in advance of a conference in Frankfurt on December 7th and 8th. Doctors and nursing staff from all over Germany are meeting for the eighth time for the “Prison Medicine Days”.

There are only a few applicants for vacant positions, said Keppler German Press Agency (dpa). Doctors are particularly difficult to find. They would have to be replaced by paid staff who are more expensive and often have difficulty coping with the special conditions in prisons. But many nursing staff positions are also vacant. One topic of the conference is resilience – how medical staff can better cope with stressful work environments.

Addictions and mental health problems

According to Keppler, typical problems in prisons are addictions and psychological problems. In addition, inmates are getting older and the need for treatment is increasing. “Imprisonment does not protect against cancer or other diseases that increase with age,” says Keppler. Inmates are not always released if they are seriously ill; “some even die in prison.”

“Our main problem is addiction and drugs,” said Keppler. A third of men and half of women are addicted to intravenous drugs. There are also other addictions such as alcohol. According to Keppler, opiate-dependent patients usually receive substitution therapy. However, they often also suffer from comorbidities such as hepatis, HIV or abscesses. From Keppler’s point of view, prison is the wrong place for many of them: “It’s nonsense to lock up these addicts.”

Important social task

In his opinion, the same applies to many mentally ill prisoners. “We can’t properly care for these patients in the correctional facilities, but we can’t get rid of them either because the psychiatric clinics won’t take them off our hands.”

Prison doctors fulfill an important social task: some prisoners receive appropriate medical care and social support for the first time in their lives. “Releasing prisoners into freedom healthy and with a new awareness of their health concerns – society also benefits from this,” said Keppler.


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