Watch-house detainee emergency healthcare

Grant ID: EMLE-142R33-2020-CRILLY

Project Summary

In the acute phase of police detention, health concerns can emerge for detainees, especially around drug dependence, mental health conditions, and physical injury. In addition are system complexities including crowding.

In the event of an infectious disease outbreak (such as COVID-19), crowded conditions amongst a population with greater underlying burden of disease than the general population creates significant public health and economic concern. Furthermore, access to resources and expertise to manage health concerns in this environment can be challenging, especially in rural areas.

Researchers will interview key stakeholders involved with the care delivery and decision making of detainees, to identify innovative strategies to delivering healthcare in watch-house settings. This research will consider the decision making processes and costs associated with the delivery of healthcare in police watch-houses that may reduce the need for transfer to hospital emergency departments or reduce the potential for deaths in custody.

This research addresses the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation to understand how evidence-based health services can be provided for those requiring treatment, care and illness prevention whilst in police custody. It also identifies ways in which the need for expensive hospital stays can be minimised.

The expected impact of this research is the capability to identify and inform joined-up approaches so that cost-effective, safe, quality emergency care can be provided to detainees in police watch-house settings.



- Brandenburg, C., Thomas, S. D., Lincoln, C., Somerville, A., Heffernan, E., Kinner, S. A., Byrnes, J., Gardiner, P., Davidson, P., Daley, N., Green, D., and Crilly, J., 2024. Supporting equitable care of patients transferred from police watch-houses to the emergency department: A qualitative study of the perspectives of emergency doctors. Emergency medicine Australasia : EMA, 10.1111/1742-6723.14408. Advance online publication.

- Brandenburg, C., Crilly, J., Thomas, S., Gardiner, P., Kinner, S. A., Heffernan, E., Lincoln, C., Somerville, A., Davidson, P., Wilson, D., Green, D., and Byrnes, J., 2023. Police perspectives on the economic considerations of providing healthcare in short-term custodial settings in Australia. Medicine, science, and the law, 258024231198915. Advance online publication.

- Crilly, J.L., Brandenburg, C., Kinner, S.A., Heffernan, E., Byrnes, J., Lincoln, C., Gardiner, P., Davidson, P., Somerville, A., Wilson, D. and Green, D., Thomas, S., 2022. Health care in police watch-houses: a challenge and an opportunity. Medical Journal of Australia.


- Crilly, J., Health care strategies in short-term police custody: perspectives from police. 4th Global Conference on Emergency Nursing and Trauma Care, 9-11 September 2023. Sweden.

- Crilly, J., Brandenburg, C., Thomas, S., Gardiner, P., Byrnes, J., Kinner, S., Heffernan, E., Lincoln, C., Somerville, A., Wilson, D., Green, D., Healthcare strategies provided in police watch-houses: a qualitative descriptive study. 19th International Conference for Emergency Nurses. 30 September 2022. Gold Coast, Australia.


Amount Awarded


Grant Scheme


Principal Investigator:
Prof Julia Crilly OAM

Co Investigators:
A/Prof Ed Heffernan
A/Prof David Green OAM
Dr Cathy Lincoln
A/Prof Josh Byrnes
Sen Sgt Paul Gardiner
Prof Stuart Kinner

Associate Investigators:
Dr Caitlin Brandenburg
Prof Stuart Thomas
Dr Annabel Somerville
A/Prof Peter Davidson
Mr Daniel Wilson
Mr Nathan Daley


Collaborating Institutions

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