A woman gave birth to a stillborn baby in a prison toilet under “shocking circumstances” after a nurse mistook her labor for period pain, according to a watchdog examination.
Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) Sue McAllister said staff made “a serious mistake of judgment” in failing to visit or properly examine an inmate after she began to bleed and reported being in pain – incorrectly decided she was having a painful period.
The mother, Louise Powell, said she “couldn’t forgive the prison” for what happened.
The 30-year-old did not know that she was pregnant and did not believe it either, as a report published on Tuesday is called.
Fellow inmates and staff at HMP Styal had “no suspicion” that this was the case until the girl was born prematurely – possibly between 27 and 31 weeks – in the toilet of her mother’s cell block in Cheshire Prison in June 2020.
The results come just months after a scathing report revealed how a newborn baby died after a teenage girl gave birth to a child alone in a cell at Europe’s largest women’s prison, HMP Bronzfield in Middlesex, despite staff asking for help had called.
In that report, Ms. McAllister said the mother had a “terrifying, painful and traumatic experience” and described the case as “deeply sad and agonizing”.
The prison staff called the nurse on duty three times over two hours to raise concerns about the prisoners, but without visiting or assessing her, “they mistakenly concluded that she was bleeding and had severe stomach ache from a painful period.”
The report added, “Regardless of the cause, it is unacceptable for someone to have unexplained acute pain for several hours without proper assessment or consideration for pain relief.”
Ms. McAllister cannot say whether the baby could have survived if her mother had been taken to the hospital. However, her report added: “We believe that this should be determined by a court on the basis of commissioned expert evidence.”
Although she was convinced that prison staff did not miss any “obvious signs” that she was pregnant in the three and a half months she was behind bars, there were “missed opportunities” in the hours leading up to her pregnancy to realize that she gave birth in dire need of clinical help, Ms. McAllister said.
In a statement to BBC Newsnight, Ms. Powell said: “The pain of Brooke’s death will never leave me. I can’t forgive the prison for leaving me when I called for help and I felt like I was dying. I had a medical emergency and needed urgent help, instead I was left behind. I want justice for Brooke so that no other woman has to go through this horror in prison. “
Kate Paradine, executive director of the Charity Women in Prison, said the latest findings are “another example of catastrophic health care failure in prisons”, claiming prisons are “not safe for women”.
Prison Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “The tragic events described in this report should simply never happen to a woman or child, and my deepest condolences go to the mother. We have already implemented the recommendations of the report and made important improvements in the care of pregnant women in pre-trial detention.
“We’re also looking at ways to better screen for pregnancies in prisons so that women don’t fall through the cracks. But there is clearly much more to be done to ensure that mothers-to-be in prison receive the same support as those in the community – something that I will do. ” continue to set priorities. “
The NHS said it had taken “immediate action” to ensure that “all women are offered pregnancy tests when they arrive in prison” and that staff are trained to identify the early signs of labor and “know what to do in the event of an unexpected birth.” is to be done “. “- Actions that were among a number of recommendations made in the report.
Spectrum Community Health CIC, which operates the prison health services, accepts the report’s findings. A spokeswoman said she was “fully committed to ensuring that lessons are learned and that the recommendations in the report are recognized and implemented” following this tragic incident.
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