The World Health Organisation tells us that investing in good healthcare in prisons is “one of the strongest lessons of the end of the last century”. Preventing the spread of disease, promoting health awareness and improving health more generally can help improve outcomes not only in prisons, but also in communities when inmates are released.

However, facilities within the prison system mean that prisoners often have to be moved from one facility to another or visit an outside hospital for treatment – wasting valuable time and money. More importantly, this can lead to breakdowns in communication that could have very serious implications for the wellbeing of inmates.

Technology like Video-as-a-Service (VaaS) is one way to address the specific challenges linked with providing quality healthcare within the prison service, and this and other forms of telemedicine are gaining more and more interest in the sector.

Essentially, VaaS is a hosted solution which utilises videoconferencing and audio connections to eliminate the distance between patients and clinicians, allowing limited resources to be spread across large geographical areas without the need for travel, saving valuable time and money. With advances in technology the latest high definition systems offer diagnostic quality solutions, enabling meaningful consultations to be carried out by medical specialists regardless of location, ensuring scarce and expensive resources are more easily available to assess patients without the need for travel or delay. This means fewer of the security issues associated with transporting prisoners to where the expertise is located, and quicker diagnosis and treatment for those who need it.

Experts agree that VaaS will play an important role in the future of prison healthcare, not just in the delivery of telemedicine services. David Higham, founder and CEO of community rehabilitation company The Well, which covers both Lancashire and Cumbria, is one of them: “When someone goes to prison, they are often isolated from society and this can have serious negative implications. Video technology offers an opportunity to change this, by facilitating contact with friends and family.

“It can also be used to great effect as part of the rehabilitation process. Healthcare and rehab provision in prisons has changed each decade – in the 80s people were wary of admitting that they were taking drugs out of fear that they would be put into isolation without any form of support. Now, with the help of technology, offenders could be included in support and rehab groups happening on the outside. This will not only give them hope and aid recovery, it will also keep them in touch with society and help to promote visibility of the rehabilitation process amongst the general public.”

Geri Byrne-Thompson, former assistant chief executive at Cumbria and Lancashire Community Rehabilitation Company agrees: “In my experience, communication between prisons, local hospitals and GPs is somewhat lacking. Therefore, any technological solution which could facilitate document sharing or enable remote assessments with people in prison would be extremely beneficial when it comes to providing care.

“I would expect technology in prisons to become increasingly widespread – there are apps available which provide support to offenders and enable them to learn new skills. This can help to reduce suicide rates, self harm, and the likelihood of reoffending.”

This shows the far-reaching potential of VaaS and other technologies not only in basic healthcare – for both mental and physical conditions – but also in rehabilitating offenders and enabling reintegration into the community. And if it also brings with it the possibility of a more efficient, cost-effective system, it is an approach that should be seriously considered by the prison service.

Ian Jackson, managing director at Imerja