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How to Become a Prison Nurse (UK)

A career as a prison nurse is one in which no two days are the same. Tasked with overseeing the health of prison inmates, the role is challenging but highly rewarding at the same time. 

Working either directly through the NHS or via a private healthcare provider, prison nurses carry out a wide array of medical tasks, ranging from initial health screenings to arranging hospital transfers, and much more besides. 

In this post, we’ll be delving into what prison nurses do and the pathway you can take to become one, yourself. 

What Does a Prison Nurse Do?

Prison nurses work in a variety of correctional facilities, including prisons (both public and private sector), young offender institutions and specialised healthcare wings/units attached to prisons (for more significant healthcare needs, which are often mental health-related). 

Working in both low-risk, open prisons and Category A prisons alike, prison nurses must balance person-centred and compassionate care with the security restraints placed upon them by the prison system. It’s fair to say that there really is no other job like it. But what about their duties?

Prison Nurse Responsibilities

A prison nurse’s responsibilities include: 

  • Performing initial health screenings for new inmates. When a prisoner arrives at a correctional facility, they will undergo a medical assessment to determine their overall physical and mental health. 
  • Transferring medical information. A prison nurse is also responsible for transferring medical information when inmates transfer in or out of a facility. 
  • Administering medication and managing long-term conditions. Prison nurses make sure inmates take any medicine that’s necessary, as well as overseeing any chronic conditions that need regular monitoring. 
  • Providing emergency care as needed. Medical emergencies aren’t uncommon in prison environments, and prison nurses need to be able to provide immediate care in acute cases; this might be seeing to broken bones obtained in a fight between two inmates, for example. 
  • Aid with mental health issues. Sadly, ill mental health is prevalent in prison populations (with more than half of people in prison surveyed reported as having mental health problems), and prison nurses must monitor inmates’ problems (like depression, anxiety, psychotic disorders, etc.) and refer them to specialist treatment as appropriate. 
  • Offering nurse consultation clinics. An integral part of the UK prison setup, nursing clinics function in a comparable manner to those you’d find in a GP surgery. They enable inmates to be seen by a prison nurse and have a one-to-one appointment-style meeting in which their various health needs can be assessed and discussed. 
  • Helping with substance misuse cases. This might be the management of withdrawal symptoms, administering medication as part of recovery (e.g. methadone) or offering counselling and support. 

Note: exact duties will depend on the specialism of the prison nurse in question, and whether they’re an RGN, an RMN or a dual-qualified RN (practising in both adult and mental health nursing).

How Do You Become a Prison Nurse?

Gain an Undergraduate Degree in Nursing

The first step to becoming a prison nurse is to study for an undergraduate degree in nursing. By studying for an NMC-approved (Nursing and Midwifery Council) BSc in Nursing, you give yourself the foundation from which to then become a prison nurse down the line. 

Undergraduate degrees in nursing take either three or four years, depending on the route taken, though three-year courses are most common. Training comprises both academic education and on-the-job learning through placements. 

Register With the NMC

Once you’ve graduated, it’s time to get registered with the NMC. This enables you to legally practise nursing in the UK. At the time of writing, there are just under three-quarters of a million registered nurses nationwide.


Upon qualifying as an RGN or RMN, the NMC recommends that nurses have their preceptorship within a year of registration. This helps more smoothly transition new graduates into being nurses working independently and autonomously. 

A helpful preceptorship for someone interested in becoming a prison nurse might be working in the ER or within inpatient psychiatry. You can also choose to do your preceptorship in a prison if you want to start working in prisons straight away.

Get Your Enhanced DBS

To work in a prison and offer any form of medical care, you need an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check with Barred List check.

These checks ensure that someone is suitable to work in a position where you’ll be interacting with vulnerable people and is also a means for employers to look at any criminal record you might have.

Apply for Prison Role Jobs

Once you’ve graduated and completed any preceptorship, you can either choose to gather more experience (which we’ll come onto) or apply direct to a prison nursing role (if you’re not already doing your preceptorship within a prison). 

Prison nurses are highly sought after, and here at Seven Resourcing, we have a range of prison nursing positions on offer!

Boost Your Chances of Becoming a Prison Nurse

In what’s a highly competitive industry, it’s not enough to simply achieve your qualification as an RN and expect to walk into a job, you need to make yourself stand out from the crowd. There are several ways you can do this. 

Gather Experience

We talked about preceptorships before, but even after completing this it’s worth trying to gain as much additional experience as possible. 

Whether that be emergency care, mental health experience or substance abuse, it’s all helpful in the context of a prison nurse. You could also consider studying for a postgraduate degree so that you can become dual-registered with the NMC. 

Being qualified as both an RGN and RMN will highlight the high standard of your credentials to prospective employers.  

It’s worth noting that even if you’re qualified as an RGN not an RMN, it’s still a good idea to gain some experience with mental health, if possible, because of just how commonplace mental health issues are within prison populations.

Prison-Specific CPD

CPD is a crucial part of any registered nurse’s career, and ongoing development and training isn’t just a box-ticking exercise – as some people seem to think – but rather, a vital cog in the continued support of a high-quality nursing workforce. 

There are learning programmes out there that are specific to prison settings, too. For example, there’s a course run by eLearning for Healthcare (elfh) in partnership with the NHS and the RCN called Nursing in Adult Prison Healthcare Settings, whose specific aims are to “support nursing colleagues who may be interested in a healthcare career within adult prison settings.”

Other Things Worth Knowing Before Becoming a Prison Nurse

It’s important to stress that being a prison nurse is unlike any other nursing role. Whereas most nurses work in purpose-built medical settings, prisons are far from that. 

To quote Maggie Woods, speaking to RCN Magazine back in 2021, “No one ever looked at a category B Victorian prison and saw the ideal environment for treating someone with mobility issues”. 

What’s more, there are more safety concerns working in a prison than most other nursing settings. The prison environment can be volatile and knowing how to navigate it always requires vigilance and awareness. 

Prison nurses also typically have a higher degree of autonomy than many other nursing roles, so it’s important that this is something you’re comfortable with before applying for a position. 

When it comes to available resources, things might also be more stretched in prison settings and nurses may find themselves having to be more creative with the resources they do have at their disposal than other types of nurses might. 

Finally, there can be more complex legal and ethical concerns associated with nursing in a prison setting, whereby patient confidentiality must also be balanced with security concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the Average Hourly Rate for a Prison Nurse?

A prison nurse can typically expect to earn an average hourly rate of between £25 and £35, depending on experience, location and the job in question.

What Band are Prison Nurses?

Prison nurses typically start at band 5, though they can progress upwards to band 6 as they become more experienced (band 6 nurses are often referred to as specialist staff nurses).

Final Thoughts on Becoming a Prison Nurse (and Getting a Prison Nurse Job)

As we alluded to at the start, there are no jobs quite like prison nursing! Filled with unique challenges and endless variability, this is a role that will have you reaffirming just why you fell in love with nursing in the first instance. 

So, what are you waiting for? Check out the prison nurse jobs we have on offer, today! 

Carry on reading