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Emails reveal prison PPE rift

Emails reveal prison PPE rift

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Emails reveal prison PPE rift


Emails obtained by Express have exposed a row over PPE in the months before the Prison Governor went ‘missing’.

Nick Cameron, who was appointed in August 2018, still holds the top role at HMP La Moye, but is currently not at work while an HR process continues.

No details have been provided by the government about the reason for his absence or the nature of the HR matter

However, new emails released following a request by Express under the Freedom of Information Law have revealed Mr Cameron’s growing unease at the level of support provided to the prison throughout the pandemic ahead of him stepping aside from the leading role, culminating in him raising the alarm with the Prison Governors Association. 

The 188 pages of communications show how Mr Cameron made a plea for more PPE as early as February – before the first covid infection was detected in Jersey.

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Pictured: Mr Cameron asked for PPE to stop covid rapidly overwhelming the prison, and reduce the risk of prisoners "blocking" ICU beds.

Those requests were repeated in the months that followed, with Mr Cameron warning that, without appropriate protection, any infection would spread quickly throughout the prison. 

Given its large over-65 population and number of prisoners with vulnerabilities, he cautioned that patients from prison alone may flood and potentially overwhelm the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit – risking the lives of other islanders.

However, he was repeatedly told that there was not enough PPE available, and that the prison should instead look to stepping up hygiene and distancing measures, consider keeping prisoners locked up for longer, and roll out cloth masks to its population – something Mr Cameron feared could lead to litigation if a prisoner or staff member died.

Frustrations appeared to hit boiling point in late April when Mr Cameron wrote an email to the Home Affairs Director General Julian Blazeby entitled ‘Lack of support for SoJPS during C19 crisis’.

While heavily redacted, the email appears to draw together concerns that had built up over the previous months, including the provision of PPE to staff and testing for staff and prisoners at La Moye.

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Pictured: Mr Cameron also asked for priority testing for prisoners and staff.

On the latter, Mr Cameron wrote: “…With the availability of more testing it was raised recently at a MAJC strategy meeting, by both the Chief of Police and I, that our staff should have access to priority testing, so that we can get them back to the front line with minimum delay. And for the prison, its prisoners, should we get a suspected C19 case, that we have priority access to testing, so that we can rapidly isolate and prevent infection spread. The reasons are well known. Containment in a prison setting is very difficult and if we don’t contain we could flood the hospital (ICU especially) as the prison has a significantly higher risk profile (age, ULHCs, Drug taking and Alcoholics).”

The email then goes on to quote from a speech delivered by the Chief Minister, saying: “Being prepared for increased infection, and having the resources available to treat and save the lives of as many islanders as possible underpins all of our decision making. We will not be putting money before people.” 

The critique, which was accompanied by several attachments to email chains in which he had previously raised concerns, was also copied to the Home Affairs Minister Constable Len Norman, as well as several other anonymous parties.

“I have taken the decision to copy into this note – to the Home Affairs Minister given the staffing issues may be raised by the union, and to ensure our alignment to the Chief Ministers political leadership, [REDACTED] to advise on H&S aspects, and [REDACTED] who has statutory responsibility for the welfare of prisoners. [REDACTED] to support you during this difficult time and perhaps guide on decision making. Finally, I have copied in the Prison Governors Association, my professional body.” 

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Pictured: Current Home Affairs Minister Constable Len Norman recently said Mr Cameron's absence was the subject of "ill-informed rumour".

Express asked for emails from the inboxes of Mr Cameron and Mr Blazeby relating to the prison’s pandemic preparations between the months of February and the end of June. 

The explosive email of 20 April is the last communication on the topic between the pair.

The emails raise fresh questions over Mr Cameron’s apparent disappearance, which saw a member of the Independent Prison Monitoring Board – which had recently penned a sparkling review of Mr Cameron’s leadershipresign in protest at his treatment last month

In response, the Home Affairs Minister said that Mr Cameron's situation had been the subject of "ill-informed rumour".

Yesterday, former Home Affairs Minister Senator Kristina Moore claimed, “Enough is enough," demanding that the government rapidly conclude the HR process involving Mr Cameron.

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Pictured: Senator Kristina Moore has asked for a swift resolution to the HR process.

“It’s important that someone who is doing a good job is allowed to continue to do a good job and offer their abilities to the public,” she said. 

“It was clearly a very strong ship and it is very well-run, a calm environment, and we as islanders should be really pleased to have such a facility. However, the role of the governor is a pivotal role and despite the fact he has a good team around him and will have embedded those requirements into that team so that they can continue in his absence it’s important that a leadership team carries on in a proper and complete fashion and a four-month period of absence is not proper.”

How did the row unfold?

One of the earliest emails released to Express was from Mr Cameron to Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) boss Julian Blazeby among others dated 26 February – weeks before covid arrived on the island. 

In it, he says he is “surprised to see that a decision has been made to issue PPE to other JHA services and does not mention the prison service.”

He goes on to ask for “assurance” that the potential risk to staff will be addressed, receiving a response from an anonymous individual agreeing that the prison service should have access to PPE. 

By 25 March, however, it appeared that the prison was still struggling to get hold of protective equipment, having been told to look at increasing hygiene measures and distancing instead.

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Pictured: Mr Cameron said distancing was very difficult inside the prison.

To this, Mr Cameron replies that the prison is “doing all the things you suggest and many more”, continuing: “As you will be fully aware the prison is different from the community and I would ask that before you instantly dismiss our idea of putting staff and prisoners in PPE to ‘flatten the curve in the prison’ to such an extent we give the hospital capacity to manage the rest of the island’s C19 patients as it hits its peak, that we have a conf call to discuss.” 

He adds: “We are not seeking any preferential access to something we don’t have. We are being responsible and proactive as part of the island wide strategy.”

In response, he is told that there PPE is limited to 4,400 surgical masks, and that projections for the prison’s need are around 2,100 a week.

On 26 March, Mr Cameron writes to Mr Blazeby: "We are really all working hard to ensure we keep providing services across JHA. And importantly don’t end up blocking icu beds with prisoners that other islanders need who deserve that care. I think we can save islanders lives this way."

Mr Blazeby replies that he is "keen" to discuss "alternative plans to keep your business going".

By 28 March, Mr Cameron says he has learned of a shipment of 20,000 masks and asks that PPE is reconsidered, particularly given difficulties with distancing at La Moye.

“Our staff have to enter prisoners cells, and be closer than 2m to prisoners… We have [REDACTED] of our prisoners doubled up ie. 2 in cell that is 5m square, and the nature of a prison is confined and close contact inevitable.” 

An unnamed individual replies, suggesting that cloth masks are instead considered as an alternative, but Mr Cameron says this creates a risk of litigation if a prisoner or staff member “died having worn a diy mask and not a clinically made one”. 

On 29 March, Mr Blazeby tells Mr Cameron he had read the email thread and understands his concerns, but emphasises “we have to manage this carefully and sensibly”. He requests that Mr Cameron stops emailing anyone from the Health Department directly.

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Pictured: JHA Director General Julian Blazeby asked Mr Cameron to stop liaising with the Health Department directly.

In the meantime, emails also reflect growing difficulties with staffing. 

Mr Cameron describes all JHA services as being “in red/critical and barely functioning”, emphasising that appropriate PPE will help with workforce resilience. 

He relays this in a briefing note to the Home Affairs Minister on 1 April, where he outlines the prison’s contingency planning so far - including moving some vulnerable prisoners into isolation for their protection and allowing prisoners to attend court via video conferencing – and the impact of staffing difficulties on activities at the prison.

Under ‘Areas of Concern’, he writes: “We would like to move to this as the next stage of our prevent / delay plans but cannot do this due to the shortage of PPE to ensure we don’t swamp JGH ICU at a critical time in “the curve”.”

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Pictured: Mr Cameron said he was worried about prisoners overwhelming the Jersey General Hospital's ICU.

Concerns over staffing appear to reach such a degree by 8 April that emails show plans to draft in agency workers to assist. 

On 20 April, Mr Cameron writes to Mr Blazeby, copying in several others, with the subject line ‘Lack of support for SoJPS during C19 crisis’.

CLICK HERE to read the full set of emails.

(Note: Many of the emails have been heavily redacted under Article 25 of the Freedom of Information Law, which relates to the release of 'Personal Information'. Express will be appealing these redactions.)

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