Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA)

In 2009, the Irish Red Cross pioneered an innovative healthcare management solution to improve health awareness and education within Ireland’s prison community.

The project ‘Community Based Health and First Aid’ (CBHFA) is a unique approach to improving community health, hygiene awareness and first aid skills in prisons using groups of Irish Red Cross Volunteer Inmates as peer to peer educators. The programme has grown from strength to strength and, since 2014, has been running in all fourteen of the country’s prisons.  CBHFA is run in partnership with the Irish Prison Service, the Irish Red Cross and the Education and Training Board.

''Governors are telling their prisons are cleaner, more hygienic and safer places. Volunteers are passing on what they have learned into the wider community through visits from their families" Graham Betts Symonds, CBHFA Programme Director, said.

The project started by proposing the concept of ‘Red Cross volunteering’ directly to prison inmates, bringing an alternative way to viewing life in prison. CBHFA proposes thinking about prison blocks as if they were neighbourhoods; landings (floors) as streets, and prison cells as households. The formal prison healthcare units are viewed as the community health centres serving these neighbourhoods, and the Irish Red Cross volunteer inmates are each linked to a nurse within these health centres. This ensures quality assurance, and that all volunteer health and wellbeing awareness projects within the community are linked to operational health risks.

CBHFA in prisons has not only achieved improved health awareness at landing and cell levels, but has also had significant impact on the personal development, empowerment and confidence of inmates. This has led to changes in both the behaviour and outlook of many of the inmates who have worked as Irish Red Cross volunteer inmates.

The Irish Red Cross and its partners are now focusing on institutionalising CBHFA so that prisons continue to be healthier and safer places, and prisoners have more opportunities for personal development. At the same time, it is hoped that the  stream of Red Cross work will provide a steady direction for inmate volunteers beyond the prison walls. It is hoped that this will contribute to prison prevention, and safer and healthier local communities.

"Since I have been working as an Irish Red Cross inmate volunteer in prison I have friends who are drug free, I am keeping fit, a caring person and not violent anymore”, quote from an Irish Red Cross inmate volunteer.

See how becoming an Irish Red Cross volunteer has helped inmate Eddie to create an inclusive and empowered community within his prison, as well as the impact it has had on him personally:


The CBHFA won several national and international awards and it has been highly acclaimed by the World Health Organisation in a field-trip to an Irish prison where the programme is running.

Learn more about the CBHFA programme and its awards here.

Learn some interesting facts about CBHFA here