Guard slams prison healthcare standards

·2-min read

Inmates at Melbourne's women's prison are receiving sub-par healthcare with some nurses not even qualified to give out Panadol, a prison guard of 23 years says.

Leanne Reid is a supervisor in the medical unit at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre where Indigenous woman Veronica Nelson died in a cell in January 2020.

She said it was common to see women as unwell as Veronica not getting appropriate treatment.

An inquest is examining the circumstances surrounding her death, including a dozen calls for help she made in the hours before her death.

"I don't think the care is of a high standard," Ms Reid said, referring to care from doctors and nurses at the prison.

The process for women to be able to receive medical attention and then to receive medications is slow and cumbersome, she said.

A woman might see a doctor on Monday but not get prescribed medication until Friday.

The care was not reflective of community standards, she said.

Asked how it could be improved, Ms Reid raised staff qualifications.

Some nurses in the unit don't have the appropriate qualification to hand out Panadol, she said, while cultural awareness and competency was also lacking.

"I'm no expert but when women in my area come in withdrawing from drugs and alcohol I know those women like a coffee with three sugars. So I give them four because I know they need that little extra bit to get them through," she said.

"With Aboriginal women, some don't like a particular holding cell because they believe there's spirits, so I make sure they're not put in that one - little awarenesses like that."

Ms Reid said concerns about inadequate care were discussed among staff in the unit, but no complaints were made over fears of retribution.

Instead she and others tell women to complain to the health ombudsman.

Earlier Aboriginal woman Kylie Bastin told of being in a cell near Veronica's when she died, hearing her yelling and screaming for hours.

A prison officer was recorded on an intercom telling Veronica to stop yelling because she was waking other women.

But Ms Bastin said the women didn't care about being kept awake, only wanting to ensure Veronica was well.

"They let her die," she said."They didn't care. It's disgusting."

Ms Bastin said staff at the centre did not treat her or other Aboriginal women with cultural sensitivity.

There were no opportunities to meet with the Aboriginal health service or a Koori doctor while in custody, she told the court.

Ms Bastin said she believed Veronica's Aboriginal background played a role in her treatment.

"I've never seen a situation like that before," she told the court. "If it was anyone else, there would be help for her."

The inquest continues.

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