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Tele-medicine project aims to improve mental health services in prison

Published: 8 January 2002

A pioneering £120,000 research project at the University will focus on the provision of mental health-care to prisoners through a newly installed tele-medicine link between Ravenswood House, a medium secure unit near Fareham, and Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.

The video-conferencing facility, will be used to carry out mental health assessments of Parkhurst inmates, and is designed to complement the existing service provided by Ravenswood House. The project is managed by the University's Community Clinical Sciences Research Division and led by Dr Luke Birmingham, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychiatry. "Prisons are primarily about security," he said, "and delivering health-care to prisoners can be difficult because visiting health-care staff have to fit in around the prison's timetable. In the case of Parkhurst, this is made even more difficult because of its island location.

"The tele-medicine link will be in addition to the current visiting service. This method has not been used much in the UK," said Dr Birmingham, "because in contrast to countries such as Australia and America very few people here are geographically isolated. However, prisoners are hard to reach and we hope this will improve their access to health-care."

Previous studies in this field have tended to look at the satisfaction of users, rather than examining whether or not the service is actually effective. In this study University researchers will evaluate the assessment carried out via the video-link. They are particularly interested in finding out whether anything is lost by conducting an assessment through the link, rather than in person. The three-year study will also ask prisoners for their opinions on the service.

Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £215 million.

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