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Digital Subscriptions > Mental Health Nursing > OctNov 2018 > How to retrieve a patient’s hat – learning by exploring our history

How to retrieve a patient’s hat – learning by exploring our history

Tim Cawley and Tony Gillam explain how historical resources can teach us about modern practice

Tracing your family history can be likened to connecting the seemingly random pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. In an educational context, historical artefacts can help to connect us with past systems of mental health care and can serve to acquaint mental health nursing students with their nursing ancestors.

In this article, we examine two such resources – a rather unusual book and a short documentary film – both of which have been used in sessions on the history of mental health nursing at the University of Wolverhampton.

Doing things by the book

The book – the ‘Rules for the Guidance of the Nurses’ – was produced by the Staffordshire Mental Hospital, Burntwood, near Lichfield (Staffordshire County Mental Hospital, 1938).

This slim volume, printed in 1938, provides a fascinating insight into the transition from lunatic asylum to mental hospital and prescribes the role played by nurses in this care system.

This state of change is reflected by an ambiguous use of language; terms such as ‘incurable’, ‘servant’ and ‘insane’ appear on the same pages a ‘patient’, ‘nurse’ and ‘recovery’, suggesting that the old continued to sit rather uncomfortably with the new.

The prominence given to Section 322 of the 1890 Lunacy Act regarding ‘penalties for ill-treatment or wilful neglect of patients’ with its reference to ‘attendants’ and ‘lunatics’ further highlights the mental hospital’s proximity to its Victorian roots and its need to impress on its nurses the consequences for such abuses (imprisonment or a fine not less than two pounds and not exceeding 20 pounds).

Nevertheless, the document provides an early example of the struggle for parity of esteem within the mental health system and the institution’s aspiration to be seen on equal terms with the general hospital and infirmary.

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About Mental Health Nursing

This special edition of Mental Health Nursing has been produced to celebrate 70 years of the NHS. It includes features examining how mental health nursing has changed and developed over the decades.