Medical treatment in prisons - shocking security!

This is the continuing saga of the appalling treatment of older prisoners within the high security prison estate. In February I wrote in Inside Time about cases including that of John Twomey, who ‘has had three massive heart attacks, suffers from severe osteoarthritis, acute angina and has suffered a cancer scare. He does not engage with psychology and so remains Category A [high security], in spite of having spent nearly five years on bail, answering every condition, even when he knew bail was to be revoked. How can his Category A status be justified?’

John is 65 years old and has had three major heart operations. His first major heart attack occurred in 2000, the second in Belmarsh reception in March 2005. During this attack, he was pronounced dead, and following resuscitation remained in a coma for weeks. During the attack his heart arrested and he was electrically resuscitated. John is riddled with osteoarthritis in his hips and knees. He also suffers unstable angina and lives on a diet of 18 tablets daily together with various inhalers. He cannot walk 20 metres without suffering agony and shortness of breath. In January 2013 he was taken to Peterborough hospital to have a full knee replacement, but following a pre-op examination, the surgeons decided his heart was in need of further major surgery, probably a multiple by-pass. An angiogram was also recommended.

On the evening of 1 May, John was taken to Whitemoor health care for tests, then the following morning was taken to Peterborough hospital by six burly screws in a Cat A van. He was taken straight to the operating theatre suite, processed through pre-op and given an electrocardiogram in preparation for surgery. He was to be the first on the table at 9.30am. As he was about to be wheeled into the theatre, the heart surgeon noticed he was still chained to an officer. She stated the chain would have to be removed as due to his history of being electrically resuscitated, it was possible he would have to be ‘shocked’. It was pointed out that the officer at the other end of the chain would also suffer a shock, possibly severe. At this point, the officers went into a huddle, with the escort senior officer leaving to phone Whitemoor for permission to remove the chain. Permission was refused. Another huddle, another phone call was made to Whitemoor and the escort senior officer returned to state he had been ordered to cancel the operation.

John Twomey was returned to Whitemoor still in need of life-saving heart surgery, and in such poor health that he spent the weekend of the early May bank holiday in Whitemoor’s health care centre with elevated blood pressure. To add insult to injury, Whitemoor’s finance department decided that his location in health care meant he had been overpaid £4.86 in prison wages and he was notified that this sum would be deducted from his account.

On 30 May, John Twomey again found himself heading for the operating table at Peterborough Hospital. On this occasion, he was placed in a wheelchair for the journey to the operating suite. Following a pre-op and electrocardiogram, the surgeon explained to John and his escort of six screws that she would be carrying out an angiogram procedure, introducing a probe through a main artery, in the groin or arm, to examine the condition of John’s heart and stents introduced in previous operations. The escort senior officer then told the surgeon that on this visit, the cuff and chain would be removed for the procedure, but only after entry was made by a probe into a main artery, whilst on the operating table. The surgeon commented that John would not be going anywhere with the probes inside him, but throughout the entire surgery several screws remained in the operating theatre.

The surgeon concluded that John requires a multiple by-pass. His heart is in too poor a condition to accept further stents. As the angiogram probe was withdrawn, and in spite of the surgeon pointing out that John would need several hours in the recovery room, unable to move, whilst he was still on the operating table, the cuffs and chains were re-attached.

John is now scheduled for a multiple by-pass operation. Before leaving the treatment room, he was told by the surgeon that if he suffered further persistent pain or suffers a further heart attack, the operation will be brought forward as an emergency. Having experienced the nonsensical level of security that he has had to endure on his two visits to an operating theatre, John Twomey is stoical about the likelihood of surviving a further heart attack whilst at Whitemoor and a Category A prisoner.

Keith Rose, HMP Whitemoor

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013


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