'New prison could cost North Wales NHS millions'


Jonathan Grieve

WREXHAM’s super-prison could cost the health service in North Wales millions of pounds, a politician has warned.

New research from Robert Jones, a research associate at Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, shows prisoner healthcare in Wales is already underfunded.  

The research reveals for 2012/2013, the UK Government allocated £2.5 million to the Welsh Government for all prisoner healthcare in Wales. This funding was further boosted by the Welsh Government to a grand total of £3.4 million. 

But the total cost of primary healthcare for the three public prisons in Wales (HMP Cardiff, HMP Swansea and HMP Usk) in the same period was £3.9 million, with regional health boards left to fill the funding gap.
And Plaid Cymru’s Wrexham representative Carrie Harper says the new prison will put the NHS in Wales under even greater strain. 

She said: “The NHS is under huge strain in North Wales at the moment with a projected overspend of £35m this year. These new figures show that the planned new Wrexham super prison, the second largest jail in Europe, will place even more strain on our health services and could cost millions to the local NHS. 

“It’s a scandal that the UK Government doesn’t fully fund this non-devolved issue and expects us to pay for the health care of prisoners, most of whom will be shipped into Wales. 

“Plaid Cymru has expressed doubts about the size and scale of this prison, which is likely to be privately run. We recognise the need for a smaller prison that serves the North Wales region and would include facilities for youth and female offenders, who are currently dispersed all over the UK.” 

And a warning was issued over potential negative effects of the prison on house values and efforts to attract investors to the area. 

Professor Max Munday, director of the Wales Economy Research Unit at Cardiff University, said: “Whilst there may be additional local employment created by both the development and operation of a new prison, it is important to recognise that there is the potential for a series of more subtle socio-economic costs to arise from the presence of such a facility.
“For example, the presence of a large prison could have effects on house values locally, and could impact efforts to market the wider area to inward investing companies. 

“In addition a complete analysis of moves towards a super prison needs to account for welfare effects on inmates and their families, for example, in terms of increased visitor/family travel time, and possibly reduced numbers of visits.
“Unfortunately some of the more subtle costs of such developments can be hidden where the focus is on simple employment creation.” 

But Wrexham MP Ian Lucas said while there were some "understandable" concerns expressed by residents in Pentre Maelor regarding the prison, he believes it could have a positive impact through creation of jobs and a subsequent need for houses.

Mr Lucas added: "We need to prepare because this is a massive project and we need to work out funding streams for things like healthcare and education. Probably only about a quarter of prisoners will be from Wales and so we need to make sure everything is appropriately funded." 

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are unable to comment on findings of a report we have yet to consider in detail. However,  the devolved settlement in relation to healthcare in the public sector prison estate was agreed with the UK Government  in 2003.
"Inflation and some additional increases in staff costs has resulted in the need for us to provide additional healthcare resources for the prison estate to assure quality services are provided to prisoners. The responsibility to meet these healthcare costs falls to the relevant health boards.
“Arrangements are in place for key partners, including the Welsh Government, NHS, NOMS, the Ministry of Justice, and the UK Treasury to closely scrutinise the potential impact and costs in North Wales of the proposed new prison being built in Wrexham on the Welsh NHS.”

See full story in the Leader

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