'Treated like nothing': New complaints of 'shocking' medical care at Auckland women's prison as inmates allege Corrections failed duty of care

The medical system has been condemned by two women currently behind bars.
The medical system has been condemned by two women currently behind bars. Photo credit: Supplied.

Female prisoners are making an emotional plea to be "treated like humans", complaining they're finding it difficult to access medical care behind bars and "waiting for months" to be seen by a doctor. 

The medical system in place has been condemned by two women currently locked up at Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility (ARWCF) in letters supplied to Newshub.

It comes after the mistreatment of female prisoners was put under the spotlight after two women were gassed in their cells and forced to perform a humiliating ritual to be fed.

Scathing comments from Manukau District Court Judge David McNaughton then backed up assertions Corrections has repeatedly broken its own rules and regulations, calling treatment of inmates at the prison "degrading," "cruel" and "inhumane" manner. 

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis last month apologised to the pair and a third inmate for their treatment, and ordered an urgent overhaul and review of women's prisons.

In a letter shared with Newshub, another female prisoner described ARWCF's medical system as "shocking". 

"Corrections has a duty of care and I feel that this is not being met with so many of us waiting so long to be seen by a nurse or doctor," she wrote.

The prisoner, who spends 23 hours locked in her cell in the segregation unit, says she has been battling constant headaches and pain in her left eye and on the left side of her face.

She says getting help has been difficult, and the handling of her concerns have made her feel like her health is not important.

"I really felt like I was just in the number in the system, a waste of space, somebody not worth caring about." 

After suffering in pain for three weeks, the pain got to a point that it was unbearable and she submitted a medical chit. She received a receipt to acknowledge her medical chit had been seen, only to go seven days without a check-up.

She told one of the unit officers, who called the prison's medical team and within 10 minutes she was taken to a nurse. She was told a doctor was needed, and that she'd have an appointment by the end of the week - and if not, the nurse would reassess her condition.

But that didn't happen, she says.

"The nurse did not see me that Friday like she said she would. By Monday I was still in pain. One of the unit officers noticed and said that she would call medical."

The inmate says when the nurse got to her cell, she expected that she'd discuss the headaches and pain but she didn't. 

"When I tried to tell the nurse what was going on with me she was very rude to me which upset me as I always want to make sure that I am respectful to anybody who works at this prison." 

In a letter shared with Newshub, another female prisoner described ARWCF's medical system as "shocking".
In a letter shared with Newshub, another female prisoner described ARWCF's medical system as "shocking". Photo credit: Getty Images.

She says she could hear the nurse talking to another prisoner who was treated the same way. 

The woman says she accepts that she should be in jail and understands it is a punishment, but feels as though her basic rights are being denied.

"I want to get everything that I can out of prison so that I can change my life and live a healthy safe life for myself but also a safe life for others around me and with the help of prison staff, I feel that I will be able to do this." 

Juanita Ryan, Health Deputy Chief Executive, told Newshub Corrections is "deeply concerned" at suggestions women in the prison system feel they are not receiving health care in prison, recognising all people serving time are entitled to receive a reasonable standard of healthcare equivalent to that found in the community. 

"We will actively respond to any information we receive that someone is being treated contrary to this." 

She said medical chits are received and triaged by registered nurses according to urgency.

"People with acute needs are seen immediately, people with urgent needs are seen within a few days and people with non-urgent conditions such as acne, cracked heels or rashes are usually seen within a week, but no more than three weeks as a general rule. 

"We actively monitor wait times for patients to see a medical officer and have seen a reduction since the successful recruitment of the nurse practitioner role last year."

She said any person with acute medical needs that cannot be treated on-site will be transferred to hospital and referrals are made for anyone who needs to see a specialist. 

"Nurse clinics operate each day and see an average of 20 patients a day on top of performing their usual tasks such as administering prescribed medications to the women. There is a medical officer on-site weekday mornings and a nurse practitioner Monday to Friday running clinics." 

However, a second woman outlined claims contradicting this in another letter seen by Newshub, stating she has put in seven medical chits since arriving in prison on January 18 and only seen the nurse once. 

"I'm suffering real bad anxiety and depression with a lack of sleep on top of that, not seeing the doctor makes me feel the prison doesn't care about our wellbeing," she wrote. 

"Medical is too slow and not seeing us ladies. It's hard enough being in here but getting treated like nothing isn't right, we are all still human who have feelings and needs. Something needs to be done ASAP." 

Ryan said nurses across all sites use "standing orders" to administer pain relief and can refer to an over-the-counter list of medications that they are able to administer if the presenting condition allows. She said nurses also use standing orders for certain antibiotics for things like dental pain and UTIs.

Panadol is given by custodial staff and a system is in place for health services to be alerted if someone is needing regular Panadol for the same complaint for 24 hours, she said. 

"They are then booked to be seen by a nurse and assessed for alternative pain relief or booked in to see a medical officer if this is needed."

Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis told Newshub he expects medical care to be accessible. 

"Any time an individual raises concerns about how they are treated while in prison, I expect these to be addressed appropriately. 

"It’s my expectation that Corrections always provide adequate and timely medical treatment to individuals who require it."