When doctors receive a call from the Gardaí asking for a medical assessment or treatment of a detainee, many will feel their heart sink.
Whilst in some areas this can be a fairly common request, learning how to assess patients in custody does not make up any part of the formal medical training scheme, meaning doctors can feel nervous about carrying one out. Equally, with no dedicated forensic physicians in Ireland and no official guidance for doctors, it’s not surprising that many don’t know who to turn to for help when dealing with these tricky situations.
Because there are no official forensic physicians, any doctor may be called upon to conduct a medical assessment of someone who has been detained in custody – either at the request of the patient or the Gardaí. These patients will often be unlike those on a typical GP’s practice list, and will have unique problems that will need a doctor’s expertise to assess. Even detainees with common medical problems will often be more challenging to deal with due to the lack of available equipment or supplies needed to treat them.
Guidance on prisoners’ rights says doctors should treat detainees “with the same dignity and respect as patients would receive outside”1 at all times, offering them the same medical treatment as they would to other patients whilst being mindful of the unique needs detainees might have.