• Bridgewater Community Healthcare FT will not bid to retain its contracts for physical healthcare
  • Only took on contract for two of the prisons in 2017, after previous provider also opted to withdraw
  • Comes amid wider concerns over the state of prison health services

An NHS trust has told staff it will cease serving five prisons in the north west, amid wider concerns about the state of healthcare services for inmates.

Bridgewater Community Healthcare Foundation Trust says it will not bid to retain its contracts for physical healthcare in two Lancashire prisons, as well as two in Warrington, and one in Wigan.

The trust only took on the contract for the two Lancashire prisons, HMP Garth and HMP Wymott, in April 2017, after their previous provider also opted to divest the contracts. The current contract is worth around £3.5m per year, and is up for renewal in April 2020.

The trust’s board papers for June say the trust had to request additional “in year” funding for the Lancashire prisons from NHS England, due to their reliance on agency workers.

They said the trust had experienced “difficulty retaining staff” and there had been “increased sickness absence due to work related stress”. Its annual report for 2017-18 said there were “significant pre-existing quality issues” when it took on the contract, and the level of risk remained “high”.

The trust’s prison contracts have various end dates, but the papers said negotiations about their future are ongoing with NHS England.

Major concerns over the state of prison health services were raised by Bill Kirkup in his review of failings at Liverpool Community Healthcare Trust, which previously served HMP Liverpool.

Dr Kirkup recommended that NHS England review the arrangements for commissioning prison health services nationally, to ensure they are safe and effective.

NHS England has told HSJ that a report is due to be published shortly.

Bridgewater FT has dramatically reduced in size and turnover in recent years, and recently revealed it is in talks over a potential merger with Warrington and Halton Hospitals FT.

Chief executive Colin Scales said in a statement: “As part of a strategic services review, the trust has decided not to retain the prison health care contracts we are currently responsible for when they are retendered.

“Whilst there will always be a case for an increased level of investment in services, our decision not to bid to retain is not at all related to levels of funding.”

Greater Manchester Mental Health FT will continue providing mental health services to the prisons.