'Shortage of doctors' for detainees in East of England

Custody suite in Norfolk
Image caption A number of counties now share one doctor to cover custody suites

Lives could be put at risk due to a shortage of medical staff for detainees in police custody in the East of England, a health worker has warned.

The contract with private firm G4S sees one doctor covering every custody suite in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

Another covers Norfolk and Suffolk. Before, each county had one doctor.

G4S said it did not accept lives were being put at risk and it monitored detainee welfare very closely.

The £5m contract - which started in April this year and covers Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk - halves the number of doctors on call, replacing them with healthcare professionals with additional training.

There are currently 50 full-time professionals with 16 more being trained, G4S said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption G4S said it is going through a "transitioning period"

The new roles they carry out include drink and drugs tests on detainees and attending sudden deaths. When called upon, they are expected to reach cells within an hour.

Staff 'in tears'

A health worker, who asked not to be named, told the BBC: "The staffing numbers are so low we are struggling to meet needs of detainees.

"It's impossible to get around to see everybody who needs to be seen because the staff are not there and it's going to end up causing someone to be extremely unwell or a death in custody.

"Staff are breaking down in tears on the job. We are all so overworked.

"When we do arrive on site we are greeted by police with anger because they have been waiting for medics to arrive to attend to healthcare needs of detainees for five to eight hours at times."

Image caption G4S said no detainees were being put at risk

Trudie Needham, independent custody visitor at King's Lynn police station, in Norfolk, said: "The distances that people have to travel is huge.

"How can you have one doctor for all of the area, you need more people.

"The staff here feel... they'll alert people to the need but they are in the hands of the service provider and if they've only got one person... they could be in Great Yarmouth... and for them to travel over to King's Lynn can take some significant time."

John Shaw, managing director for public services at G4S, promised the 16 extra staff would be in place by June, adding that "no welfare of any detainee is being put at risk."

He denied reports detainees were waiting hours for medics, but accepted there was a "high degree of travel" for staff, which would improve once the extra staff are drafted in.

"We are asking staff to work with us and to bear with us while we make this transition," he said.

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