Caring for prisoners facing end of life

As the population of people in prison increases and ages, there is a need to think about their care in older age and also their care at the end of life. Those aged 50+ years represent 15 per cent (6100+) of the Australian prison population, with an increase of 84 per cent from 2005 to 2015. Of those people who die in the Australian prison system, 38 per cent will spend their final weeks or months of life in a secure, guarded, public hospital ward.

A group of researchers from UOM and St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Palliative Nexus, have a program of work examining this issue. They have found that this group of people are dying younger – on average 20 years younger than their non-prisoner counterparts. They have lengthy hospital admissions and if able to be transferred to a palliative care ward (outside the secure hospital ward) this tends to occur late, just a few days before death.

These findings have been recently published in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care, highlighting some of the care needs of this group. This area of research is of interest worldwide, with the team at Palliative Nexus collaborating on a national project to explore the experiences of prisoners and their families requiring palliative care, as well as part of a European collaborative examining this area.

Panozzo S, Bryan T, Marco D, Collins A, Lethborg C & Philip J. End of life in hospitalised prisoners: a group comparison of palliative medicine and hospital use. 2021. BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care.