INMATES at Scotland's largest prison are regularly being given the wrong drugs or dosages due to confusion over handwritten prescriptions, a nurse has claimed.

In an anonymous letter sent to trade unions, Unison and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland, as well as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the nurse at HMP Barlinnie complains that there have been "lots of drugs errors" involving high-strength painkillers and tranquilisers.

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The staff member blames the mix ups on handwritten, instead of printed, Kardex notes - prescription forms filled out by doctors.

The letter states: "We have nurses allocated to different halls and they spend most of the time dispensing supervised medicines and detox medicines to prisoners and this can take a couple of hours and there has been a lot of drugs errors due to having handwritten kardex's which have been written in the GP's own handwriting and not printed as they should be. This causes a lot of errors with misspelling."

Supervised drugs include controlled substances such as the heroin substitute methadone, and potentially addictive drugs including morphine, opiates and benzodiazepines where there is a risk of illicit prison trading or prisoners being bullied by other inmates for their supply.

The nurse adds that prescriptions for non-supervised drugs also "get lost or misplaced" because "everything is done on paper".

The letter adds: "Prisoners keep complaining about this and it is the nurses who get the abuse."

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The nurse also raises concerns that working conditions at the prison are "getting worse instead of better" since the NHS took over responsibility for healthcare.

In the letter, the nurse - who did not want to be named but said they had been working at the prison for a few years - said there was "a high staff turnover and at times there is a lot of staff off sick due to the pressures of the job".

It states: "When the NHS took over we were told that there would not be any more night shift, but we still have to do them...we are the only prison in the trust that does the night shift and having one nurse on to cover a prison population of over 700 prisoners is dangerous."

The nurse added that they wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprimand from "bullying type" managers.

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Matt McLaughlin, regional organiser for Unison, said they had previously flagged worries about drug mistakes with health board bosses.

Mr McLaughlin said: "The details contained in this anonymous letter are very concerning, particularly as concerns over drug errors due to inept systems at HMP Barlinnie have been raised before with senior managers in NHSGGC.

"This needs an urgent and independent enquiry to get to the bottom of what is going on and why staff feel so stressed they are scared to raise concerns."

The NHS took over prison healthcare from the Scottish Prison Service in 2011, but a report by RCN Scotland in 2016 warned that staff morale had suffered with sickness rates and vacancies increasing.

There was also "little evidence" that the health gap between prisoners and the general population had narrowed.

However, in 2017 Healthcare Improvement Scotland inspectors rated health services at HMP Barlinnie "very good".

Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland Director, said: “We would urge any RCN member at HMP Barlinnie to get in touch with the local RCN Officer and local reps who will treat their concerns in confidence and raise them through the appropriate channels.

"The RCN is also already working closely with NHSGGC and the employers on prison healthcare staff’s working arrangements.”

A statement from NHSGGC said: "We are disappointed that this anonymous letter makes a number of inaccurate claims which we do not recognise as normal practice within the prison health service.

We do not have a high turn-over of staff with only 0.8 vacancies and one long term sickness absence.

"We at no time made a commitment to discontinue night shift. In fact, we have no issues filling our night shift rotas as a core number of staff opt to do night duty and regularly offer to do night duty for staff who prefer not to work nights.

"HMP Barlinnie uses the same national prescribing kardex system as every other prison in Scotland and we have no staff under investigation for poor practice or errors."

NHSGGC also refuted any claims of bullying.

The statement added: "This is not a culture we would tolerate and there is no history of allegations or warnings around bullying at HMP Barlinnie."