WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
This is what happens when you let your government put people’s lives in the hands of a private corporation that exists only to make a profit: PEOPLE DIE.
That is exactly what happened at privately-run Bronzefield Prison, on the outskirts of Ashford in Surrey, which is run by Sodexo Justice Services.
An inquest has found that teenage mother Rianna Cleary was found in her cell, covered in blood, her dead baby Aisha cradled in her arms, after she had twice called for help after going into Labour during the night – and both calls were ignored by staff. She had to bite through the umbilical cord.
She should have been monitored five times during the day before the birth but the nurse who had been on duty at the time admitted that this had not happened. A nurse had tried to get Ms Cleary moved to the prison’s healthcare facility but no bed was available.
When she went into Labour, Ms Cleary used the cell’s intercom system to tell an officer she needed a nurse or an ambulance – but the officer on duty did not call for any help. About half an hour later, in what was described as “unbearable” pain, she repeated her request – but the call was disconnected in the guard’s control room. This meant the call bell from her cell was disabled from that point onward.
The senior coroner for Surrey, Richard Travers, said systematic failings at both the prison and the hospital that looked after the mother meant Aisha died; she might have survived if Ms Cleary had been discovered in Labour and transferred to hospital.
These events occurred in September 2019 and the inquest has only just happened – taking a month to be heard.
A glance at the prison’s history shows that this outrage is far from unique: at least four times in the two years to 2019, women gave birth in upsetting and potentially dangerous conditions.
A report by The Guardian in November that year states that in addition to Ms Cleary’s case, “On at least four occasions in this period, women held at the privately run Surrey prison have given birth in distressing and potentially unsafe circumstances, including one woman who gave birth in her cell and another who was left in labour at night-time supported only by another pregnant prisoner.
“In December 2017, one woman suffered a stillbirth and another baby was admitted to neonatal intensive care, in both instances after women were transferred from Bronzefield to hospital at a late stage of labour. In the latter case, it is understood that the woman alerted the prison to concerns two days before she was eventually taken to hospital.
“Board meeting minutes from Ashford and St Peter’s NHS trust, from July 2018, refer to the two incidents, stating: “Adverse outcomes were reported in both cases … significant learning and process change were identified for both hospital and prison teams.”
“The minutes state that Bronzefield, Europe’s largest female prison, intended to review its policy concerning the transfer of pregnant women to hospital and its criteria for risk assessment.
“Sodexo Justice Services, which runs the prison, said that following the December 2017 incidents it had worked with Ashford and St Peter’s Hospital and changed arrangements with its midwives.”
So there can be no excuse for what happened.
But: “The Guardian also heard of a woman who alerted prison staff that she was in labour in July 2018. She was not seen by a midwife and was left in labour during the night, supported only by another pregnant prisoner.
“In March 2019 a woman, understood to have been in the prison on remand, gave birth in her cell with no midwife or doctor present. A nurse reportedly delivered the baby.”
The Ministry of Justice, contacted in November 2019, said that Sodexo had not incurred contractual penalties relating to the levels of care to pregnant women in custody in the previous three years – and declined to comment on then-recent incidents at HMP Bronzefield.
Former prisoners, including one from Bronzefield, said midwife appointments and scans were frequently missed as a result of prison staff shortages.
It all adds up to a failure of service caused by privatisation, in This Writer’s opinion. Private corporations, brought in to run a service like a prison, do so in order to make money and cut corners in order to achieve those profits.
Even when they are found to be at fault, those failings continue to go unremedied, meaning more – and worse – tragedies are likely to happen.
And what is done by the government that hired these – call them what they are – incompetents? It turns a blind eye.
One final point: if you think what happened at this privately-run prison is a traumatically-shocking outrage, ask yourself what will happen to the National Health Service when it is given to private firms like Sodexo.
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