The collection of health data on prisoners in Australia is sporadic, inconsistent and incomplete, according to a new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare today in Sydney at the 33rd Public Health Association conference.
A Prisoner Health Information System shows there were approximately 50,000 people in Australia's prisons last year, yet there were no national standards or agreements in place to collect information about their health.
Head of the AIHW's Population Health Unit, Paul Jelfs, said that monitoring prisoner health would help to find areas for improvement, evaluate health care services, disability and other support programs and assist in planning.
'This kind of information is important for public health, both within prisons and for the Australian community, Dr Jelfs said.
'Inmates form a closed community within which health problems, like communicable diseases, can be readily created or transmitted. Poor prisoner health may also affect the health of the wider community upon prisoner release or by transmission to visitors or prison staff.
'Good, reliable information about the state of health among prisoners could also help to assess differences in health care between prisons, prison systems or prison providers.'
The report recommends setting up a steering committee to oversee the development of a prisoner health information system. Such a system could incorporate a range of data collection methods such as admissions/reception data, annual medical examinations, medical records, hospital separations, communicable disease notifications and national surveys.
'A system of this kind requires agreements among Commonwealth and State and Territory governments, participation from both the prison and health sectors, and significant infrastructure,' Dr Jelfs said.
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