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.

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  • I am now 66 but have a memory jogged by external photos here. My mother and I took the 757 bus and went to a clinic here. There was an elderly doctor in a white coat and a lot of equipment my short hair was shaved in patches and salty stuff put on. I lay on a hard, flat black couch with something on my head. I remember boxes with dials.. My memory is patchy coming home. I remember grassy banks and a blue door. If this rings a bell with anyone, please comment. I have lived with this for so many years, that bus ride from Stockwood Park Luton to a ‘clinic’. My mother is now 97 and says. She cannot remember, but II can. Does treatment like this ring any bells?

    By Beverley Raw (05/02/2024)
  • I witnessed staff over-medicating patients and restricting patients for petty things – the results were harsh. In my stay, when I was finally allowed out of my room -yes I was admitted due to weight loss – at the time I was maybe having a cup of hot chocolate a day. I was forced to eat a roast dinner that even an adult would find hard to consume. If I was unable to complete this there would be consequences – a very brutal regime. One of the most disturbing scenes I witnessed was a young a young girl ( 17- 20) who had been in the system for a long time, her child had been taking away from her, and she had little hope left. I went to the the toilet and found her on the the floor, she had slit her wrists, there was a girl holding her, doing the best that she could do. I ran and informed the staff. All they said was she is attention-seeking, they didn’t rush to see how she was. Never in this country have I since such a lack of humanity. I was told by a member of staff not to get involved or things would get worse for me. This is a regret that I have in my life.
    Imogen Wing
    [reposted here on behalf of Imogen Wing by the editorial team]

    By Miss I wing (14/01/2021)
  • 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)