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Pregnant women in custody

02 April 2022
Volume 30 · Issue 4


Naomi Delap, Director of the charity Birth Companions, examines a recent case involving the death of a baby at a prison and asks whether equivalence of care is being achieved in the UK

In January 2022, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (2022) published a report into the shocking death of a baby girl, Brooke, at Her Majesty's Prison Styal, a women's prison, in 2020. While the report makes detailed recommendations for improvements, it reaches the surprising conclusion that ‘given the exceptional nature of the event, it was not possible to form a single, overall judgement on the equivalence of [her mother's] care’. That is a difficult position to agree with, and raises more questions than it answers. The principle of equivalence needs further exploration in light of this case, and in terms of the implications for other pregnant women and babies still in prison.

The government and NHS's commitment to equivalence of care is set out as ‘the aim of ensuring that people detained in prisons in England are afforded provision of and access to appropriate services or treatment… and that this is considered to be at least consistent in range and quality (availability, accessibility and acceptability) with that available to the wider community, in order to achieve equitable health outcomes and to reduce health inequalities between people in prison and in the wider community’ (National Prison Healthcare Board, 2019).

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