For Pamela Whittle, becoming a Custody Nurse Practitioner with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) offered the ideal opportunity to put her considerable experience to good use in a whole new environment.
“Since qualifying back in 2001, I’ve covered a wide range of specialties, from A&E and surgical to obstetrics and gynaecology. Working in a custody setting allows me to draw on all of my varied expertise in an environment that gives me real autonomy. My A&E background is particularly useful as the core of the role involves triaging patients – prioritising and assessing their care needs to ensure their safety and wellbeing during their period in custody.”
Pamela is based at the Islington custody suite and has been with the MPS for around eight months now. So how does the role differ from her previous life in a hospital environment?
“I was ready for a change of scene having spent nearly 10 years in the NHS – and working at the MPS has lots of positives. For starters, they’re a very stable employer which is a massive bonus given the way things are today. From day one, I’ve been made to feel extremely welcome. It’s an incredibly personable environment – and I’ve formed strong working relationships with the team around me. I also think nurses enjoy a higher degree of recognition here. As I’m the only medical professional on site, the Custody Sergeants rely on my advice and there’s a great deal of mutual respect. Senior managers also take a keen interest in our work and have taken the time out to meet with me.”
With 26 cells, Islington is one of the capital’s largest and busiest custody suites. During particularly hectic periods, it also takes the overspill from neighbouring boroughs which Pamela thinks is great as it means greater variety in her workload.
“Being quite close to Hackney, we do get quite a bit of gang-related crime. That being said, I’ve never felt remotely threatened as I’m surrounded by trained police officers who are very protective. Besides, I’m used to working in an A&E environment, so there’s not much that would ever faze me. Detainees tend to have a different attitude towards us as nurses anyway, as they know we’re here for their benefit. To be honest, I tend not to look at the reason why a detainee is in custody. Unless, that is, it’s directly relevant to their care or has an impact on how I’d assess them.
“I also move around to other boroughs. This adds to the variety as different boroughs have different types of detainee, types of arrest and trigger crimes. In Islington, for example, you might get more substance misuse-related crimes, like theft or shoplifting; whereas in Belgravia, you might get people being arrested for fraud.”
Fortunately for Pamela, she’s able to draw on a wide-ranging clinical background. But in the eight short months she’s been with the MPS, she’s already added significantly to this experience.
“In a custody suite, you don’t get the state-of-the-art equipment and medical teams you get in A&E. So you have to be very confident in your decision making. Before joining, my knowledge of issues such as mental health was fairly limited. But now I come into contact with lots of different conditions, so I’ve learned a great deal about how to spot symptoms, as well as the many different forms of treatment.”
When I ask Pamela about other positives she found in the role, she doesn’t hesitate.
“Everything’s positive. I have more autonomy. There’s not as much stress or pressure. I certainly don’t miss four hour turnaround targets! My input into the decision-making process is listened to and valued. There’s real scope for progression. I also have a great manager who’s happy to help me along in my development. There’s absolutely no pressure for you to move onwards and upwards in your career. But if you do want to get on, the support is there. The people are great too – the officers – even some of the detainees. All in all, I’m very happy I made the move and have never looked back.”