HMP Hewell has been named and shamed by the prisons watchdog as it revealed self-inflicted prison deaths in England and Wales have increased by 23 per cent in a year.

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) also said drug abuse continues to plague facilities, despite repeated recommendations to tackle the problems.

It comes as the number of prison deaths also increased, by six per cent to 334 in the financial year 2018-19, despite an unexplained reduction in the number of those dying from natural causes.

The ombudsman said it was not possible to give a precise figure on the number of drug-related deaths, but highlighted that "one of the most worrying aspects" of its report was "the apparent ease with which prisoners were able to access drugs".

Sue McAllister, overseeing her first annual ombudsman's report, said: "We continue to make the same recommendations repeatedly, sometimes in the same establishments and, often, after recommendations have previously been accepted and action plans agreed to implement them."

The report showed there were 91 self-inflicted deaths during 2018-19, up from 74 the previous year.

It meant that 27 per cent of deaths in prisons in the last year were self-inflicted, up from 23 per cent on the previous 12 months.

In one case, a 31-year-old robber, who had a long history of substance misuse including psychoactive drugs while in jail, accidentally set himself on fire while smoking spice in his cell at HMP Hewell in Tardebigge.

The report found the unnamed prisoner pressed his emergency cell bell and called for help but it was 16 minutes before an officer found him.

He was said to be conscious, but unable to comply with staff instructions, and had severe burns to most of his body.

The report found the prisoner had accidentally set himself on fire and "may not have reacted initially because he was under the influence" of a psychoactive substance.

He died two days later.

The ombudsman said the delay in responding to the prisoner was "unacceptable", and more than three times longer than the target response time of five minutes.

A disciplinary investigation was subsequently opened.

Mrs McAllister said: "It was a very tragic and distressing incident. The number of drug-related incidents on any one day can be significant.

"In this case, it was dismissed as just another drugs related-incident."

She added: "I'm not saying there is a culture that it (the cell bell) doesn't matter, but I think there is a sense sometimes that it is overwhelming."

Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer said: "Any self-inflicted death is a tragedy, which is why we have trained more than 25,000 staff in suicide and self-harm prevention and assigned each inmate a dedicated key worker for support.

"We are also spending £100 million on improved security measures to stop drugs which fuel violence and self-harm, improving support during the often difficult first few days in custody, investing £2.5 billion in modern prison places which support effective rehabilitation, and have recruited almost 4,400 more staff in the last three years."

The report found the number of deaths from natural causes dropped from 188 to 180 during the year, although the report was unable to explain the cause of this.

There were four homicides in prisons in England and Wales in 2018-19, down from seven the previous year.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: "The catastrophic decline in our prisons brought about by successive governments is not just another story about having to save money. It is costing lives.

"A grossly overburdened system is failing in its first duty to keep people safe."