Saturday 3 June 2017

112 Cefn Coed Hospital

112 Cefn Coed Hospital
The first Welsh “asylum” (the old term for a psychiatric hospital) for the mentally ill was opened in Swansea at May Hill in 1815.  It was followed by Vernon House in Briton Ferry, which was adapted in 1844 for this purpose and could accommodate 92 inmates, before closing in 1905. 
The Glamorgan County Asylum in Bridgend opened in 1864 to serve the whole county of Glamorgan, until each County Borough was required to build its own asylum under the terms of the 1891 Public Health Act.  This took a long time to implement, for initially Townhill was thought to be the right place to build an asylum in Swansea, until in 1908 the Cefn Coed site was first considered.  Nearly 250 mentally ill persons from the Swansea area were being treated elsewhere.    
By November 1910 it was decided that Swansea Borough would meet two thirds of the cost of the new mental hospital, with the Borough of Merthyr Tydfil supplying one third.  The cost of the land included purchasing mining rights and compensation for farm tenants.
The purchase proceeded, and the foundations of the new buildings were nearly complete when shortage of labour and materials during the First World War brought everything to a standstill.  Building work re-started in 1928 on the first of Swansea’s four large municipal undertakings to utilise Unemployment Relief Schemes: the other three were the main drainage scheme, erecting the new Guildhall in Victoria Park, and building Tir John electricity generating station.  Cefn Coed’s first medical superintendent, Dr Skottow, said that the new hospital would have no padded rooms, stating that “they would make admirable store-rooms”. 
In December 1932 the first psychiatric hospital to be built in Britain since the First World War, then called Swansea Mental Hospital, was opened by the Princess Royal, daughter of King George V.  Having changed its name from the Daily Post to the Evening Post earlier that year, in its editorial the South Wales Evening Post commented that mental hospitals had been regarded as places of dread, but stated that “the treatment of mental complaints must be faced in the open”, and recommended that “the public themselves should adopt a totally different attitude towards mental ailment”.  Old prejudices, however, took a while to fade - some in the local community thought that the ringing of the hospital’s bell signified that an inmate had escaped! 
The first patients were transferred from Talgarth Hospital, Breconshire, where mentally ill persons from the Swansea area had previously been treated.  Besides taking mentally ill people, at first Cefn Coed also accommodated the mentally handicapped (now known as people with learning disabilities), who required permanent care.  Some complained that relatively few local people were employed, perhaps because of the specialised nature of much of the work, though Welsh actress Rachel Roberts (of “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”) worked there as a nurse for some time.
Three quarters of the in-patients made use of occupational therapy, and a psychiatric clinic for children was introduced.  During the Second World War Cefn Coed was used as a casualty hospital, in addition to its psychiatric role, and the first ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) machine was installed.  In the 1950s there was an acute shortage of nurses – whereas in 1932, 130 nurses had looked after 600 patients, in 1958 almost the same number (128) cared for 700 patients.  The annual fête was a popular occasion, helping place the hospital firmly among the local community.
Cefn Coed has also been the Regional HQ of the Welsh Ambulance Service.  Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Health Board intends to close the hospital in the near future, and replace it with specialist units, such as the new 60-bed unit Ysbryd y Coed which provides care for older people with dementia.  Whatever future changes transpire, thankfully we have come a long way since the days of London’s notorious Bethlehem Hospital - from which we get the word ‘bedlam’.                  




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