DYING prisoners can now spend their last days in a hospice-style end of life suite at a North-East prison where there has been an increase in elderly inmates convicted of historic crimes.

Three cells in HMP Holme House, Stockton, have been converted into two spacious single rooms with specialist beds and a wetroom which can all be accessed by nursing staff 24 hours a day.

The facility was officially opened by MP for Stockton North, Alex Cunningham, who said it was offering a critical service.

He said: “Bottom line is it’s just about patient care, whether it’s in prison or in the wider community everybody deserves that level of dignity and level of care as they go through their final days."

He said there were now 123 prisons in England and Wales with a population of more than 85,000. In 2010 to 2011 about 200 people died in custody with 61 per cent dying of natural causes.

“People might think that’s a relatively small number but as longer sentences are imposed and historical crimes are finally detected the population is ageing considerably so this sort of service is all the more critical,” he added.

Nine prisoners died at the category B adult male prison last year compared to four in 2012, according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice.

Seven of those deaths were from natural causes with two classed as self-inflicted. It was the highest number of deaths since the prison opened in 1992. It holds 1,210 many of whom are serving long sentences or on remand for crimes including violent or sexual offences.

The new facility, named the Pallium Suite, after a competition was held for prisoners, has been funded by Health & Justice NHS England, Macmillan cancer relief and prison healthcare provider Care UK.

Prison governor, Jenny Mooney, explained: “Due to age or illness some prisoners will come to the end of their life whilst in custody.

“The palliative care suite at Holme House provides dignified, decent and suitable surroundings for those prisoners and their friends and family at a difficult time.

“Any death in custody has a profound effect on all involved, and this suite is an important area that helps to decrease suffering.”

Care UK’s Head of Heathcare at the prison, Elise Smithson added: “Sometimes Holme House has been a prisoner’s home for many years and they would prefer to die here rather than move to a hospice. It is very much about patient choice.”