Part two of a two part history of Stoke Park Hospital, near Bristol, which was home for people with learning difficulties and mental illnesses.
This workshop was organised by ACTA (www.acta-bristol.com) and led by Eileen Haste, working with people with learning difficulties and the Misfits Theatre Company.
[scratchy violin and dulcimer music plays throughout]
Welcome to the second part of the history of Stoke Park Hospital. In Part One we heard that Stoke Park Hospital was a progressive institution with pioneering research. C Harvourt Kitchen wrote in a report about Stoke Park, “I have seen some of the century-old establishments, and the impression that I get is that the greatest change since the days when they were Victorian lunatic asylums is that, in the place of keepers, they now have nurses and doctors wholly devoted to their patients.”
However, all was not what it seemed: He went oon to write, “The basic troubles are overcrowding and under-staffing. The result is a regimentation; everyone doing everything together, like getting up, dressing, eating, washing and even going to the lavatory at the same time every day. Some patients don’t even have their (own) individual clothes or hair brush - all individuality lost.”
A look in the management committee minutes shows that at each meeting, absconders were reported. Residents went to great lengths to escape the hospital.
In 1948, Stoke Park was taken over by Stoke Park Group Hospital Management Committee. Little maintenance was done on the buildings and virtually no new buidlings were built between 1948 and 1970.
The 1959 mental health act was revolutionary: It decalred that it should be assumed that people entered hospital voluntarily and could leave voluntarily. Legal detention was only needed if deemed necessary for the person’s health or safety or for the safety of others. Everyone detained had to be under the care of a psychiatrist and the term “mental defective” was replaced by “sub-normality”, “serious sub-normality” and “psychopathic disorder”.
It took several years for psychiatrists to review all their patients, but the result was (that) in the early 1960s, many of the more able patients were discharged from detention and chose to leave hospital.
However, there was no other system of care in England, and the waiting lists for the hospitals remained higher than the total in-patient population. Wards remained overcrowded and under-staffed.
In 1965, the Ministry of Health issued local authorities with suggestions for improving services. But scandals had already started to get publicity. In the 1960s and 70s, scandals got the attention of the media, as it became apparent that ill treatement and abuse of patients was being ignored by hospital managers.
In 1971, Stoke Park was taken over by Frenchay Health District. Little changed except that money started to be diverted to prop up other services. In 1971, the government published their white paper on sub-normality - better services for the mentally handicapped. It argued that hospitals should close and residents be re-housed in community settings. As a result, new spending on the old, large hospitals (over 500 beds) in Bristol was prevented. The Hospital Advisory Service visited the mental handicap hospitals in 1971 and wrote a very damning report on the slum-like conditions in Stoke Park.
Student nurses leaked the report to the press. A film appeared on BBC in 1972. This film shocked the authorities, who had spent so much time reassuring people that their children were happy and well-looked-after.
In 1978, a member of the Stoke Park Hospital Parents’ Association declared, “Mentally handicapped children are being treated like something off a conveyor belt, because of staff shortages. Some severely hyperactive children were caged like animals.”
The chairman of Frenchay Community Health Council stated, “Provision for the mentally handicapped in this country is a scab on the conscience of society.”
The result of all of this was a large investment into the mental handicap hospitals of Bristol. But it was already the beginning of the end: Brentry had a series of temporary prefab wards, built in the 1970s, and the size of the wards reduced. Stoke Park had a series of wards, built from 1971 to 1984, enabling them to close down the old wards. In 1982, the new NHS Phoenix NHS Trust takes over. In 1992, all the remaining Learning Disability hospitals were absorbed into the trust, with thhe purpose of closing the remaining hospitals and moving into the community.
Hortham closed in 1991, and Purdown in 1992. Stoke Park closed in 1997. All the buildings built after 1890 were demolished and replaced by housing. Brentry and Hanham Hawke[???] closed in 2000.
I worked in the admin at Stoke Park doign work experience and also paid work for Phoenix NHS Trust for 2 years before it closed.
Residents moving out of Stoke Park were found homes in the community.
With the closing of these institutions a chapter ended on the provision for people with learning difficulties.