Cane Hill Hospital

Remembering the history of Cane Hill Hospital

2.6 – Wind-down in the 1980s


Through the work and ideas of Dr Douglas Bennett and Dr Tony Isaacs in the 1960s and ’70s, Cane Hill had changed from a general mental hospital to what was essentially a psycho-geriatric hospital. Instead of looking to cure those admitted, the emphasis was now on preparing career mental patients for the next step, real life in the community

The population had decreased to 643 in 1985, mainly through transfers of certain types of patient to St Francis’ and Bethlem and Maudsley, New cases had not been arriving at Cane Hill since the 1970s, only chronic cases transferred from other hospitals. The patients at Cane Hill were mainly schizophrenic, although there were bi-polar cases and those suffering from neurotic and organic mental illnesses as well.

In 1986, access to long-term beds at Cane Hill ceased. Only acute cases where a short term stay was needed were admitted. New long-term admissions would have been sent to Bethlem and the Maudsley.

Cane Hill’s long term population was growing to be increasingly dependant. Unlike younger patients in the early stages of mental illness, Cane Hill’s patients had been in the system for the majority of their lives, and were developing age related issues such as dementia, lack of mobility and the loss of motor skills.

“The majority of the survivors required assistance in bathing or dressing (81%), nearly half were incontinent of urine or faeces once or more a week (46%), and almost all required supervision outside the home (88%). Over half (54%) were regularly awake at night, although only a minority (27%) engaged in problematic behaviours at night. Problematic behaviours were commoner during the day (53%) and a proportion were prone to hoard items (27%) Very few of the sample (8%) socialised readily with others and a few (15%) were able to keep themselves occupied in constructive activity ”.

This made the transfer system markedly different to hospitals that had previously been admitting new cases. The resettlement teams were dealing with patients with multiple and very complex needs, and there were just 5 options available for re-accommodation.

Nursing homes, residential homes and supported accommodation were the preferred choices. The other options were a transfer to another hospital, or a hospital-hostel, although these were not so common. From the evidence above, very few of the sample would have been capable of living in the community without permanent supervision.

Although the deinstitutionalisation system was designed to provide the most appropriate support in the community, these patients had followed a similar course of action to any elderly person with age-related health issues.

A study carried out between 1987 and 1992 assessed 49 patients, and from the follow-up in 1992, 22 of them had died (13 at Cane Hill)

“Eight patients moved to the SHS, a network of well staffed small houses within Camberwell run by a voluntary organisation. Thirteen patients moved into residential homes and nine moved into nursing homes. A further five patients moved into beds purchased in a long-stay NHS hospital. In addition, one patient moved into a hospital hostel in Camberwell ”

The alleged main benefits of the transfers for these patients were the quality of their environment and quality of life. They had more of a say in the decisions about their life, including what they ate and whom they spent their time with. Their accomodation was also apparently more personal: each patient had their own room, rather than the long wards they endured at Cane Hill. It was reported in 1985 that 75% of patients in Cane Hill were unaware of plans to change their accommodation, and 55% did not want to leave.

In 1992 the Knights Hill home opened, a modern building for people with dementia, offering day services as well as residential. The emphasis was on making people feel at home and the design of the building was related to these themes. IT was built on a cruciform plan, each patient had their own room, and the building was light and spacious. It did however lack the open space that was available at Cane Hill.

Written by Ali

October 1st, 2009 at 10:20 am

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3 Responses to '2.6 – Wind-down in the 1980s'

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  1. Cane Hill continued to take acute (short stay) admissions – Blake Ward was still going strong with new admissions in 1989 where i was an inpatient March to May of that year.
    at that time Blake admitted both male and female patients. there was a shared day room with a TV and piano and the male and female dormitories came off this. The dining room was glass roofed – very hot even on quite cold days when the sun was out.
    it’s a shame that there aren’t any patient memories on this site which is otherwise excellent!


    3 Jan 10 at 11:12 pm

  2. used to work there in 80s clean offices and most of wards and serve tea where patentsrk worked and put snacks for planes together plastic knifes ad forks together packets etc… staff and nurses were kind and always got given cuppa tea chatted to them and firestation and boiler office too..cleaned was a big hospital but after few months got know where to go pentents were friendly even ones that were,nt were friendly sometimes used to be 1 patent was always shouting throwing tea cups and mugs but most time never hit you had great views of fields around hospital, used be there early in morning 6-7 first ward would be nightgale where they used to make art and crafts used to suck up cockcoaches with the hover, if could get them with the hover …was about 17-18 at time good 23 years ago now round about. claire from croydon


    29 Jun 10 at 12:02 am

  3. I was a student at Purley Girls High School in Coulsdon and have vague memory of attending Can Hill as part of the school course in 1980 to help out with patients for a few days. This included putting make up on the ladies, fixing their hair or sitting with them in the in house cinema. They were mostly old. The scary part was seeing them wandering around the corridors, but they were innocent and not harmful.
    I later worked at the Coulsdon Post Office 1985 were many many patients came to collect their allowances each day.
    I see similar type of people now housed in places like south croydon wandering the streets dressed in the same manner. They call it care in the community.

    The Cane Hill site should be used for social housing only to benefit the needy.
    I would never want to buy a house on this land with its history. I’m sure there will be a Ghostly atmosphere. It seems wrong to disturb the dead.


    25 May 13 at 12:27 pm

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