A prison watchdog barred from healthcare meetings said it was “very concerned” and had “a right to attend”.
The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Wayland in Norfolk claims it has been “prevented” from attending meetings on health service provision.
The board raised the issue in its annual report and said it planned to escalate its concerns.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it had been excluded because “commercially sensitive” matters were discussed.
In its report, the IMB said the decision to ban it from the quarterly meetings followed a change in healthcare provider at the 1,000-capacity men’s prison, near Thetford.
The report said: “It is to be regretted that since the change of healthcare provider, the IMB has been excluded from attending healthcare meetings, in contravention of our right to attend any meetings.
“Consequently, it has been difficult to monitor healthcare as closely as we should like and to get accurate healthcare statistics.”
‘Official Secrets Act’
IMBs comprise independent, unpaid volunteers who monitor day-to-day life at prisons to ensure proper standards of care and decency are maintained.
Wayland IMB chairman Mike Gander told the BBC: “We are very concerned at our exclusion and we are thinking of taking this to a high level within Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service.”
He said the IMB only wanted to attend the meetings as observers.
He questioned the cited concerns over “commercial sensitivity”, claiming a number of providers were present at the meetings – which cover health provision at three Norfolk prisons – meaning they were unlikely to disclose sensitive information in front of other companies.
In addition, he said, IMB members were required to sign the Official Secrets Act, meaning they would not share such information, even if it was raised.
The BBC asked the MoJ whether the IMB had a right to attend, and whether it accepted monitoring healthcare and having accurate healthcare statistics was an important part of the IMB’s role.
The MoJ has yet to respond in detail, but did say the IMB should have access to minutes of healthcare meetings and relevant healthcare data.