Ely Hospital – article in Wales Online today

January 24th, 2012 by Admin Leave a reply »

Looking back at Ely Hospital: Staff ruled every aspect of life


A busy social scene at Ely Hospital


Former patients and staff have come together to tell the inside story of Ely Hospital for a new exhibition at the Cardiff Story museum. Clare Hutchinson takes a look at day-to-day life at the institution, as told by those who were there

IN the late 1960s Ely Hospital, a long-stay hospital for people with learning difficulties, was an isolated world in which cigarettes were the only currency and patients slept 50 to a ward.

This all changed after the 1969 Ely Inquiry – with ward sizes going down to 30 patients or less – but many of the characteristics of life in the institution remained the same.

Karen Jeffreys of Cardiff People First said: “They didn’t get a choice. They got up when they were told to get up, they wore what they were told to wear, ate what they were told to eat and did activities that they were told to do.

“For many people, we are talking about 30 years of their lives – or more – without even being able to make a cup of tea for themselves, because the kettle was an industrial one and it was too dangerous.

“And it wasn’t just in Ely – this was happening in institutions like it across the country. It was just the way things were done.”

Because patients did not earn money, cigarettes became a form of currency in the hospital – something recounted by a former therapist.“You had a lot of members of staff who used to smoke on the wards,” he said.

“I guess as people became more enlightened they used to include the residents. So they would get the residents to do something, like, ‘if you go down the shop to get me my Chinese meal I’ll give you a cigarette’, and once the person becomes hooked it becomes more of an incentive to get more cigarettes.

“Some residents would smoke continuously, while others would pick them up off the floor and make up their own, or some used to eat them.

“But because some of them tended to smoke them very quickly, by the end of the week they wouldn’t have any, so what some of the staff would do was to share them out throughout the week to ensure the person would have cigarettes, because if they didn’t they would become very agitated, very angry, and then it would be almost triggering people to go and pinch them – and of course they would get into trouble and all sorts of things.

“So it made sense. With the staff it was a sense of control over people. You control the supply and the currency and you can have more influence over what people did.”

He added: “Behaviour modification is a good therapeutic tool but then it was used as, ‘if you’re a bad boy or a bad girl’ – and we’re talking about men and women the same age or older than me – their cigarettes were taken off them, or they couldn’t see their mum or their dad.”

One former patient recalled his own experience of going to the shop across the road to buy cigarettes.“I told the day nurse can I go over the shop and she told me ‘What are you going over the shop for?’” he said.

“I told her I wanted a packet of cigarettes and she went to the office to get the money out, gave it to me and then she told me, ‘After you’ve got your cigarettes go straight back to the hospital.’

“You couldn’t have a cigarette on the ward, you had to go outside. But you couldn’t go out through the gates, you had to stay on the premises.”





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