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Meet the prison nurse who swapped retirement for protecting women’s health behind bars during COVID

Written by on 14/08/2021

A prison nurse who set up the UK’s first ever colposcopy unit behind bars could be named nurse of the year after giving up her retirement to protect inmates during the pandemic.

Kim Hogg was due to stop running primary healthcare services at HMP Low Newton in January 2020 after a 40-year career in nursing.

But when the coronavirus crisis broke out the following month, she decided to swap retirement for the job of interim head of healthcare.

“I was going to retire and go part-time,” she told Sky News. “But when COVID struck in March, it would have been the wrong thing to do.”

After months of navigating the virus at the County Durham prison, Kim has been shortlisted for the UK’s nurse manager of the year award by the Nursing Times.

Like most prisons at the start of the pandemic, female inmates at Low Newton were locked down for almost 23 hours a day.

But having worked with women there since she 2004, Kim fought for prison healthcare services – commissioned by the NHS but run by Spectrum Community Health – to remain open.

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“They let us continue a lot of our services throughout lockdown, but we had to think outside the box,” she said.

“We had to have very stringent cleaning and stick to bubbles. We did have an outbreak, like most places, but we had in-cell telephones to do welfare checks and consultations.”

One of the services Kim managed to resume just two months after the first lockdown was the prison colposcopy service.

A colposcopy is a procedure used to detect and remove abnormal cells in the cervix, which if left untreated, can turn into cervical cancer.

Kim helped create the first ever dedicated prison colposcopy clinic in the UK and Europe back in 2009, when it beat projects from 39 other countries to win a World Health Organisation (WHO) award.

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She had seen very few inmates take up their smear tests (cervical cancer screenings) despite them being advised for all women over 25, so she underwent specialist training and set up the unit.

After securing funding, beds, and a local NHS consultant, unlike other prisons, it could offer colposcopy and cell removal on-site without prisoners having to go to hospital.

“Because of some of the women’s lifestyles, there were a lot of smears with abnormal cells,” Kim said.

“But the women were quite non-compliant when it came to colposcopy stage and research showed they weren’t taking the next step to get treated.

“It requires two prison officers to escort them to hospital and it’s quite an invasive procedure.

“It was the embarrassment of going there and people watching them with the officers.”

Colposcopy
Image: Colposcopy services continued at Low Newton throughout lockdown. File pic

Over the years Kim has treated prisoners from the ages of 18 to 84 – from women on remand to those serving life sentences.

Rob Young, governor at Low Newton, says the service has helped improve the overall wellbeing of prisoners and budgets for staff.

“The colposcopy allows the women to have the intimate nature of the procedure in the healthcare unit, without the need for escort, restraints and officer presence,” he said.

“Given the majority of our women have had significant levels of trauma, this is a great opportunity to support women’s health who routinely would not access this in the community for a number of reasons.”

Rob Young is governor at HMP Low Newton, County Durham. Pic: Sarah Dodds/Spectrum Community Health CIC
Image: Rob Young is governor at HMP Low Newton, County Durham. Pic: Sarah Dodds/Spectrum Community Health CIC

Kim says that despite most inmates having rarely accessed NHS services when they come in, she believes they often get a better service than they would on the outside.

“If you were at home, you wouldn’t have someone knocking on your door telling you to get a smear, you’d get a letter in the post, but then you can’t be sure of a person’s literacy,” she said.

“And if someone declines, that’s not the end of it, we do knock on their door and give them the information they need.”

One of her patients told Sky News: “Kim has been amazing with me throughout the past eight months, she worked with me to get to the bottom of my health issues.

“She made me feel believed at a time when I felt no one was listening and done all she could to put an end to my ill health.”

Samantha Dixon, chief executive of charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, added: “This is a great example of how a service, which centres the needs and the situation of the patient, can help people get the care they deserve with dignity in a way that suits them.”

As well as the colposcopy unit, Kim has also helped set up a bespoke midwifery service at Low Newton that offers perinatal support to women up to 12 months after childbirth, as well as those who have had an abortion or miscarriage.

She is hoping to create a special menopause pathway for inmates too.

Asked why she does it, she replied: “If the women are well and feel empowered to look after their health, they have self-esteem and they can go out to work.

“If we didn’t have these services no long-term conditions would get addressed and it would add to NHS budgets, so it’s a holistic approach.”

The Nursing Times winners will be announced in November.

 Sky News

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