Experiences of Hill End Hospital

Chair of the West Herts Health Authority

Professor Roy Swanston

In 1997 I was appointed Chair of the West Herts Health Authority.  During my period as Chair, Care in The Community was introduced and most of the mental health hospitals in Hertfordshire were scheduled for closure.  The St Albans area had a number of such institutions populated by residents mainly from the northern suburbs of London.  Many people had lived in these enclosed communities for most of their lives, and it was decided that they should be encouraged to move out and live in smaller domestic type dwellings in the Community.  The idea was that many people who lived in the old Mental Hospitals were quite capable of living real lives in local communities, rather than being locked away in these institutional surroundings.  And so the vast majority were re-located throughout the area surrounding St Albans.  The whole programme has been a great success, and most of those who left the old Mental hospitals now live very useful lives, mixing with those living in their area.

I well remember a visit to Hill End Hospital shortly before it closed.  I met a group of residents who were all getting ready to move out.  Their excitement was palpable! 

Sadly, not all of the residents were able to live alone or in small groups, and they were relocated in wards specially established in local hospitals.  One such ward was in the St Albans City Hospital.  I met a young man who was severely disabled and had not responded to treatment.  He had not talked to anyone for many years.  When I saw him, he was in a room where there were laser lights and fibre optic lights, and he was shouting for joy at the light display as the coloured lights flashed on and off.  His carer told me that the change was remarkable – this young man who had been silent for years had at last found a way to express himself.

Now, most of these large institutions are closed and have served their purpose, and we are much more enlightened in our care for those less able than ourselves.  Long may it continue!

Roy Swanston

13th January 2010

This page was added on 13/01/2010.

Comments about this page

  • I trained as a psychiatric nurse at Hill End Hospital between 1978/81 when I left to train as an SRN in London. I have good memories of Hill End, though, looking back, the settings in which we provided care to “patients” were in some instances very primitive and demeaning. Examples include what were then known as “psycho-geriatric” wards such as Anson and Grafton. I am currently the Chief Executive of the Leeds Partnerships NHS Foundation Trust. Another Hill End trained nurse is Peter Carter who is General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing. Personally I remain proud of being a nurse and, though in a general management role, I am very committed to the nursing profession. I have some mementos of my time at Hill End, including some photographs, my “hospital badge” and certificate of training from the Mid-Hertfordshire School of Nursing, and a male nurse’s white coat! Hill End gave me an opportunity to have a wonderful career as well as getting involved in what remains, in effect, a social movement continuing to transform mental health services for the better. (30/08/2011)

    By Chris Butler (30/08/2011)

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