As I think back t o the beginning of this global pandemic, never in my wildest dreams did I t hink it would have gripped the world in the way it has, nor do I think y ou would have.

I remember at the beginning, when I represented the membership on the National Coronavirus Response Group (NCRG), the hours of discussions around appropriate PPE, which face masks were the correct ones to use, is the hand sanitiser appropriate etc. It was a complete unknown and in the SNC circular to staff (Circular 9) we were honest enough to say we wouldn’t get everything right. However, I confidently say we got more right than wrong.

When the NCRG were looking for guidance from the experts within Health Protection Scotland, the World Health Organisation and Scottish Government, the SPS were told to mirror the community. Whilst we disagreed with this, as prisons are far more complex settings and a higher risk, we had no option but to follow that advice.

The biggest impact felt by our membership throughout this was the change of attendance patterns, and whilst it was not an overly popular decision it was a decision the SNC made to keep yourselves, your families and your colleagues safe. I think we have been proven right and I take comfort from that fact. At the time of writing, these discussions are ongoing to return to pre Covid attendance patterns and by the time you read this, I expect at least a timetable of when this will happen to have been set out.

What we must accept is that within prisons things will change. We cannot lose sight that regimes have been safer, not only for the prisoner population but for this trade union’s membership, and to give that up would be folly on our part. Statistics from SPS show that violent assaults have dropped, therefore we must ensure these tighter control measures for exercise and recreation continue in the future. We must also understand that, although the tail cannot wag the dog, third-sector agencies will be changing how they conduct their business, which will impact on prison regimes. We must be prepared to factor these into already busy days so something must give, and it is the role of the SNC and local branches to ensure these changes are done not to the detriment of our membership.

The SNC along with SPS welcome the document from The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that states that prisons are complex, high risk settings. This was what we were looking for at the beginning of the pandemic, but, as with us, it was new to them. However, we are delighted the guidance is there now. This report is important for us as and it has allowed us to write to the new Cabinet Secretary to push for the vaccination to be made available to both staff and prisoners due to the high-risk setting. We were extremely disappointed when this was rejected before, however we will be raising it again on the back of the SAGE report.

Throughout the course of the pandemic the SNC have been sending out regular updates to the membership in which we have tried to give you all an up-to-date picture of what was going on and we will continue to do this. However, I hope there are not many pandemic updates left to be written. 

To finish, it has been a long, difficult and challenging period and our membership deserves immense credit and gratitude for coming into the prison environment throughout this period and working alien shift patterns that have had massive impacts on personal lives. It has not gone unnoticed. With the vaccination programme at full speed and testing facilities in prisons available, I hope that at time of reading this you are back on your recognised pre-Covid attendance patterns as myself and the SNC will be continually pushing for that.

Stay safe.


John Cairney
Scottish National Chair

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.