New facilities bring new career opportunities

Forensic mental health nursing is highly skilled and challenging, and demand for the specialty is growing, write Natalie Cutler (Nurse Manager Mental Health) and Julia Shaw (Operational Nurse Manager) at the new Long Bay Forensic Hospital.

Forensic mental health (FMH) nurses assess and treat adults and adolescents with mental illness who have come into contact with the criminal justice system.

In mid July 2008, the new Long Bay Prison Hospital opened 40 mental health inpatient beds to replace the recently demolished prison hospital. In addition a new forensic hospital will open on the prison grounds later this year.

As well as providing health services in Long Bay Prison Hospital, Justice Health offers FMH nurses a remarkably diverse range of roles, including:

  • Employment in crisis intervention and response teams to assess high-risk individuals in the Metropolitan Reception and Remand Centre
  • Assessment and treatment in male and female mental health screening units
  • Ambulatory mental health roles in correctional centres throughout rural and metropolitan NSW
  • Employment at 20 rural and metropolitan courts to provide advocacy, liaison and diversion from the prison system for mentally ill offenders where possible.

FMH Nurses require highly specialised knowledge, skills and attitudes. These can be developed in the workplace with targeted supervision and intensive workplace training and further enhanced with specialist post-graduate training such as the Master of Forensic Mental Health offered by the University of NSW.

Close to 200 nurses currently work in mental health roles in Justice Health and this number will almost double with the opening of the new Forensic Hospital later in the year.

In line with international best practice, this 135-bed purpose-built high security facility will provide an intensive inpatient program outside the correctional setting for adult and adolescent males and females.

The Forensic Hospital will offer services along the clinical continuum from high dependency, acute, extended care and rehabilitation.

A limited number of beds will be available for civilian patients with complex and challenging needs.

The Forensic Hospital is the first of its kind in NSW and will integrate physical, procedural and relational security into a model that balances the need to deliver a therapeutic, person-centred program with a continuous focus on safety.

Opportunities are available now for experienced mental health nurses with an interest in FMH nursing to be among the first to work in this state-of-the-art facility. Extensive orientation, training and on-going support will be provided to all staff. For more information, contact: www.justicehealth.nsw.gov.au/careers/vacancies.html

More information can be found at: www.justicehealth.nsw.gov.au/forensic-hospital/

Psychiatric disorders common among prisoners
A 2003 study of the NSW prison population for the then NSW Corrections Health Service found that:

  • The 12-month prevalence of ‘any psychiatric disorder’ (psychosis, anxiety disorder, affective disorder, substance use disorder, personality disorder, or neurasthenia) identified in the NSW inmate population is substantially higher than in the general community (74% vs. 22%).
  • Almost half of reception (46%) and over one-third (38%) of sentenced inmates had suffered a mental disorder (psychosis, affective disorder, or anxiety disorder) in the previous 12 months.
  • Female prisoners have a higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders than male prisoners.
  • The 12-month prevalence of psychosis among NSW inmates was 30 times higher than in the Australian community.