§ Mr. Corbyn
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what definition of a hunger strike is used by his Department; and what action is taken by police or prison staff when hunger strikes occur.
§ Mr. Michael Forsyth
A hunger strike is a situation in which an individual refuses to take food and/or fluid.
The management and care of prisoners in Prison Service custody who refuse food and/or fluid is governed by the necessity to identify the underlying reasons for such refusal to eat or drink. There is also a necessity to distinguish between those who refuse while of sound mind and those who refuse at a time when, because of a mental illness, they are unable to make a rational judgment.
The governor and prison medical officer are informed of any prisoners not taking food or fluids. The refusal is recorded in the returned food book, which is signed daily by a medical officer. If the food and/or fluid refusal continues, the prisoner will be admitted to the health care centre or transferred to another prison with a higher level of nursing care. For those patients with impaired capacity for rational judgment, arrangements will be made to transfer them to a national health service psychiatric hospital for treatment under the terms of the Mental Health Act.
Once in the health care centre, the patient's condition is monitored on a daily basis by the prison medical officer, together with a consultant psychiatrist. If refusal persists, a specialist physician will be called in. Fluid is always available, and food is available each meal-time. The patient will be given every encouragement to resume feeding.
In the case of those whose mental capacity is not impaired, the medical officer will clarify the extent of the refusal, and inform the patient of the following:that they will continue to receive medical supervision and advice;that the medical officer, except in the most limited and exceptional circumstances, will not force-feed, hydrate, or otherwise artificially provide nutrition without the patient's consent;that they will be warned of the medical consequences of continuing refusal, and of the inevitable deterioration in health which will follow, until and unless medical intervention is requested.
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 limits the amount of time that a suspect can be held in police detention, normally to a maximum of 24 hours. It places responsibility for the welfare of people so detained on the custody officer, who is required to immediately call a police surgeon or, in urgent cases send the person to hospital, if a detained person appears to need medical attention.
There is no specific guidance issued to police for hunger strikes. As the Police and Criminal Evidence Act prescribes time limits for holding a suspect in police detention, a detained person is unlikely to be held long enough in police cells to be able to undertake a hunger strike.