Cessnock District Hospital

Today I speak about an issue that is facing my community and a number of people in my community through no choice of their own. I speak of our wonderful Cessnock hospital and our Cessnock Correctional Centre that houses inmates who have come from all parts of our State. At times inmates in the correctional centre have an injury, an illness or have had an accident that requires hospital attention and they need to be taken to Cessnock hospital. They get the best care in the world at the hospital. But the reality is that when an inmate goes into a public hospital environment, as they often do right across the State, one of the requirements is that they are accompanied by two correctional centre officers who are armed, which I believe is very reasonable. However, it is quite unsettling for the rest of the general public and the workforce, who are faced with what is a pretty confronting situation.

There is an inmate, often in chains or in handcuffs; there are officers who are armed; and generally people feel quite unsafe. Everyone is doing their absolute best and I am not having a go at any of the players in this game, but the reality is that four years ago, when the decision was made to expand the Cessnock jail from 800 inmates to 1,800 inmates, the biggest jail in the Southern Hemisphere, I put to this House and to the then various Ministers that Cessnock hospital would require a special treatment room—at least one room, if not two—where inmates could be housed securely. If we think of what they would need there, essentially they need a prison cell attached to the side of the hospital or built inside the hospital because, in reality, I do not think it is fair for those correctional staff to be exposed to the very real threat presented if an inmate tried to escape. In reality I do not think it is fair for the general public, who are in the hospital either visiting or getting medical treatment, to be exposed to that very real threat.

In all fairness, I do not think it is fair for the staff working at Cessnock hospital to be exposed to that very real threat. Fundamentally I am talking about health infrastructure. I am talking about the reality that inmates from Cessnock jail need to go to Cessnock hospital for their treatment. I am talking about the reality that this has to be done in the safest possible way. Because we have not actually built the necessary facilities, I will share some of the things that have happened. In one instance, while the officers guarding an inmate were doing their very best to stay still and quiet so as not to disturb the rest of the hospital, an inmate took the opportunity to attempt an escape. Fortunately, that was thwarted.

In another instance, officers guarding an inmate were doing their very best to stay awake by having a conversation and watching television. Unfortunately, they were on a shared ward, so they also kept the public patients awake. I am not having a go at the officers; they are doing what they need to do and they are doing their best to serve our community. But we should have a separate facility for these inmates. When an inmate goes to Cessnock hospital they need access to the public toilets. In the worst case scenario, unfortunately, a drug drop is placed inside the toilet prior to the arrival of the inmate, which is quite conniving. When the inmate goes to the public toilet inside of a public hospital, they know where to find the drugs. They then conceal the drugs, return to the jail and the drugs are imported into the jail. This is not fair on our corrections services, our hospitals or our general public. I plead with Health to provide the purpose-built facilities for these inmates when they get much‑needed medical attention at Cessnock hospital.