The headquarters of South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust are at Springfield University Hospital in Wandsworth, south west London. The hospital itself has a long and interesting history, dating back to early Victorian times.
Until the 19th century, there was little care available for people who were mentally ill. Many often wandered the streets or were looked after by their families. Standards in private ‘madhouses’ and the few public hospitals that did exist were very low. Public opinion became increasingly sensitive to allegations of cruelty in the name of treatment.
The Asylum Act of 1808 encouraged the building of public hospitals. In the 1830s, Surrey magistrates decided to establish a county asylum. Building began in 1838 on Springfield Park, originally the site of an 18th century mansion. The hospital opened on 15 June 1841 as the Surrey County Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It received 299 patients, transferred from various private pauper asylums across Surrey.
At first, the asylum had to cope with every sort of clinical problem; specialist facilities only developed gradually. The Cottage Hospital opened in 1872, and an infirmary block and operating theatre in 1881.
In 1897 the Annexe (now the Admission Building) opened, admitting 20 mentally handicapped children. Patients with learning disabilities were also removed from the general wards. This was an ambitious move at the time. It enabled the asylum to develop an active approach to the education and training of those with learning disabilities.
The members of the asylum committee were often wealthy aristocrats who had altruistic motives and time to spare. The medical staff worked with few resources and little training as psychiatry was still in its infancy. There were no professional standards of knowledge or practice, and most doctors trained by apprenticeship.
Over the next 100 years, admission rates soared. Many were suffering the effects of poverty and alcoholism. And as more people moved away from agricultural life to city living, those with mental illness often became a burden their families could not support.
In 1959, an Act of Parliament allowed the number of patients to be controlled and their needs matched to a specific type of treatment.
From the 1960s onwards, the number of inpatients began to fall. This reflected changes in treatment, and changes in attitudes towards mental health. Some large institutions that had provided long-term residential care for people with mental health problems closed. Springfield University Hospital remained open, but changed what it did. Now, there are fewer inpatient beds and the majority of services take place in an outpatient or community setting.
In 1994, local services were united under the name Pathfinder Mental Health Services NHS Trust. This changed its name to South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust in 1999.
The Trust has ambitious plans to regenerate the Springfield site, as many of the original hospital buildings are no longer in use. The latest development was the opening of the state-of-the-art Wandsworth Recovery Centre in April 2009. For further information, visit the Springfield regeneration programme page.