Monday, July 28, 2008

Out of sight, out of mind?

BBC's Newsnight tonight featured a story on female typhoid carriers who were incarcerated in the isolation wards of mental asylums. Shocking evidence was given by Professor Peter Taylor of the London School of Pharmacy, analysed foetal samples for potential typhoid carriers for Long Grove Sanatorium at Epsom in Surrey, which formed part of the "Epsom Cluster" of Horton, Long Grove, The Manor, St Ebba's and West Park.

Women were still held at Long Grove until it closed back in 1992. However the patient records were not removed, and when vandals inevitably broke in they flung these records everywhere, to be discovered later by archivists researching this story.

Most terrifying was the fact that, although most of these unfortunate women had no mental illness when they were taken in, but developed mental illness as a result of being locked up. There is however no record of any one of these women ever being released. They simply lived and died behind the locked doors of Long Grove, many being buried in pauper's graves in the asylum grounds.

May Heffernan was a ward sister at Long Grove in the 1960's, and says these women were treated like lepers - boiling water flushed through the toilets, and lice soap was used by any nurses who came into contact. Other staff remember 'nice' women, with intelligence, imagination, and lives of their own - who were locked up simply because they were typhoid carriers.

That this national scandal ever occurred is shocking beyond belief - in one case, a lucid and intelligent lady isolated in one small room for five to six years. But altogether darker and more upsetting is the Department of Health's comment that, although the powers for incarceration and isolation of disease carriers exist, they deny that such powers have ever been used.

No comments: