Prestwich Hospital was built following the Lunatics Act 1845, while another act passed in the same year made it compulsory for counties to build an asylum for ‘pauper lunatics’.
The Prestwich Woods site was bought in 1847 from Oswald Milne, a Manchester solicitor, for £11,412-4s-5d and was meant to house five hundred ‘lunatics’. At its opening in1851 there were 350 patients but demand was so high that in 1864 more wards were built and opened to accommodate 560 more patients, and in 1883 another Annex was added to house a further 1,100 patients.
By 1903, Prestwich was housing 3,135 patients and was the biggest asylum in Europe. Conditions were shocking, and while half the patients were said to have ‘recovered’ a relatively large percentage, 6.57% died.
In 1922, the asylum was re-named Prestwich Lancashire County Mental Hospital.
In 1930 the Mental Treatment Act was passed into law, thanks to a 1921 whistleblowing book and campaigning by Dr Montagu Lomax, a doctor at Prestwich.***
This Act tried a more therapeutic outlook, and patients could apply for voluntary admission and, if voluntarily admitted, could discharge themselves and decide not to accept treatment.
When the National Health Service (NHS) formed in 1948, administration of the hospital passed to Manchester Regional Hospital Board, and then to Salford Mental Health Services in 1974.
The hospital was completely self-sufficient and had its own farm and livestock, its own fire engine and fire officers, three bands and its own chapel.
In 1983 it was still the second largest hospital of any kind in Great Britain with 1,478 staffed beds, all of which were for psychiatric patients.
In 1996 the last long stay ward at Prestwich closed, and much of the site was sold off to Tesco, a housing development and what is now TFI Fridays.
2007 saw the installation of a headstone at St Mary’s Churchyard to commemorate the estimated five thousand patients who died while in care of Prestwich Asylum/Hospital between 1851 and 1994, and were buried in unmarked mass graves. The St Mary’s Churchyard Action Group stated that it wanted to ‘right a wrong’ (see here for details).
The site is now under the umbrella of the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust with a whole array of specialist services and departments (see here for details)
In 2021 the Manchester Evening News revealed that three young people died at Prestwich Hospital over a nine month period, with the review to be published shortly (see here). while a Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection in April 2022 at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust resulted in an ‘inadequate’ rating for safety of its community-based mental health service for adults.
Echoing the Montagu Lomax expose one hundred years later, the inspection was carried out after whistle blowers reported safety concerns, and, again echoing Lomax, part of the inadequacy was blamed on staff shortages…
Brian Cranna, CQC’s head of hospital inspection, said: “When we inspected the community-based mental health services for adults of working age, we found that managers supported and supervised newly qualified staff well and patients said the service was good, however, people using the service and their carers also told us they struggled to contact the service for support or when in crisis. This left people at risk of harm as they had no way to tell staff their mental health had worsened.”
One of Lomax’s main points was the shortages of staff due to penny pinching by the authorities. Just over one hundred years later this latest inspection report adds:
“The service suffered from low staffing levels and high turnover rates” he added “We found managers hadn’t reviewed staffing levels for some time and there were no current plans to do this to meet demand. Due to this people were waiting too long to be seen for their first appointment, and people weren’t being seen regularly to keep them safe. It was also concerning that people’s care plans didn’t contain up-to-date information about their care and treatment…” (Read the full report here)
Most inspections, however, saw the Trust given a ‘Good’ rating by the Care Quality Commission (See all the reports – click here)
November 2022 – After a BBC Panarama expose, twelve members of staff were sacked, following evidence of abuse of patients (see here)
2022 saw Death In Paradise and Royle Family actor, Ralf Little, discover that his grandfather and grandmother met at Prestwich Hospital where they both worked. Featured on the BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are?, Little learned that his grandfather, Arthur, worked as a mental health nurse around 1939, and his grandmother, Olive, was a laundry maid there…
To see the programme on BBC iPlayer – click here
Prestwich Hospital – What is it? What did it change? And how important is it? – click here
Gruesome Conditions at Prestwich Hospital/Asylum – by ex nurses and staff – click here
Dr Montagu Lomax – The Experiences of an Asylum Doctor – click here
Buttons and Tales From Prestwich Hospital – click here
UNISON, Prestwich Hospital and Bury New Road – click here
Jimmy Savile and Prestwich Hospital – click here (warning – horrific details)
Prestwich Hospital and The Fall – click here