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Prisoners Have the Same Right as Everyone Else to Proper Medical Care

Apart from being deprived of their liberty, prisoners have the same rights as anyone else – and that includes an entitlement to competent medical care. The point was powerfully made by the case of a prisoner whose use of his right hand was compromised by a delay in referring him to hospital for surgery.

On his arrival at the prison, the man had a deep laceration on the little and ring fingers of his dominant hand. A pre-arranged hospital appointment was cancelled and an opportunity to minimise the damage to his tendons was thereby missed. After he lodged a claim, a judge found that the delay in appropriate treatment had cost him 15 per cent of the functionality of his hand.

The judge nevertheless refused to award him any compensation on the basis that his claim against the NHS trust that bore responsibility for healthcare at the prison was tainted by fundamental dishonesty. The judge found that his claim was dishonestly inflated and that he had given a deceitful account of how he suffered his injury.

Allowing his appeal against that outcome, the High Court found that the mechanism by which he received his injury was irrelevant to both his entitlement to appropriate medical treatment and his clinical negligence claim. He suffered the injury before his arrival at the prison and it did not matter how he came by it. The judge also erred in finding that he had dishonestly overblown the value of his claim.

The trust's argument that he should be denied compensation on grounds that he suffered the injury whilst committing a crime also fell on fallow ground. Such an outcome would undermine the principle that prisoners have equivalent rights to NHS care as are afforded to other members of the public. Given the impact that the injury is likely to have on his ability to work, the Court awarded him £17,750 in damages.