A WOMAN is among the finalists for a prestigious national healthcare award for her work empowering prisoners to support one another to boost physical and mental health.

Michaela Booth, from Malvern, is the National Patient Engagement Lead for Care UK’s Health in Justice service that runs healthcare in 50 prisons across England, including Hewell and Long Lartin, in South Littleton, near Worcester.

Michaela has spent the past two years developing a pioneering programme creating a role for prison Health Champions, starting at Hewell and piloting across 12 West Midlands prisons before roll-out further across the country.

Her work has now brought her to the finals of the Health Service Journal’s prestigious Patient Safety Awards in the Service User Engagement Award category.

Health champions are serving prisoners, trained to promote wellbeing through physical health monitoring, peer information giving and encouragement. The project has seen the roles, training and pay standardised for those selected to become Health Champions, ensuring equality of service for patients and opportunity for the champions.

Michaela said: “I was stunned when I heard I had been shortlisted for the national Patient Safety Awards. We have worked very closely with the Royal Society of Public Health, who have trained our professional healthcare colleagues to train prisoners in how to support patients. This includes taking basic health observations, such as body mass index and blood pressure, signposting patients to health, mental health and support services, and acting as a support network.

“They are trained to support patients through 12-week diet and exercise programmes, and some are given additional training to enable them to support those looking to quit smoking, the most positive thing anyone can do for their health.”

The empowering programme has been praised by prison governors and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons for its promotion of healthy lifestyles and for its positive effect on the confidence of those taking on the roles.

Michaela added: “People often feel more comfortable and confident talking about health and emotional concerns with their peers. People are also often more inclined to trust information from their peers and, because the Health Champions have offices on the wings, they are easily accessible. Healthcare wing visits would require an appointment.

“For those entering prison it is a stressful time and people often experience cycles of anxiety and depression. We have ensured that the health champions are involved in the early days of someone’s sentence. This is crucial as not only can they provide support directly, thanks to their training for non-crisis mental health concerns, but also they can notify our mental health and healthcare colleagues if they have concerns that someone has more serious issues.”

The winner will be announced in November 2020.