Last week I attended the annual David Jolley Lecture at Worcester University, hosted by Professor Dawn Booker. Dawn is Director of the Association for Dementia Studies, a national and international centre of excellence in training, education and research in dementia studies.

These lectures are held in honour of Professor David Jolley. Now retired, David Jolley has had an esteemed career in Old Age Psychiatry spanning several decades.

David first became interested in the care of older people with dementia and similar disorders when he was a medical student in the 1960s, working with a pioneering service in Essex led by Dr Russell Barton and Dr Tony Whitehead. He later trained with Tom Arie, John Brocklehurst and Felix Post, before establishing old age psychiatry services in the North West and then the West Midlands.

In retirement David is Honorary Reader in the Psychiatry of Late Life based with the PSSRU at the University of Manchester. He is also involved with Willow Wood Hospice in Ashton under Lyne and Gnosall Health Centre, where he inspired an innovative approach to providing memory services in primary care.

The lecture last week was delivered by Dr Claire Hilton and the subject was ‘The Story of Barbara Robb’ based on Claire’s recently published book ‘Improving Psychiatric Care for Older People: Barbara Robb’s Campaign 1965-1975’.

Barbara Robb (1912-76) was a political activist who campaigned for better psychiatric care for older people. She influenced the government to create an NHS inspectorate, provide effective hospital complaint procedures, appoint an ombudsman, create blueprints for modernising psychiatric services, and develop guidelines on managing violence in hospitals.

Barbara Robb’s story is remarkable and both David Jolley and Claire Hilton believe that her work deserves wider recognition. This is why David recommended Claire Hilton for the David Jolley lecture this year, and I must say, it was an extremely thought-provoking and enlightening afternoon. I learnt a lot and the challenging comparisons that Dr Hilton made with modern-day injustices resonated strongly.

David Jolley wrote a blog about the David Jolley lecture and so, this week, my blog contains his blog, and here it is:

Close to it all

Professor Dawn Brooker has been kind enough to organise an occasional series of lectures at Worcester University in my name over recent years. Lectures have been delivered by Alistair Burns, John Killick, Barbara Pointon, David Challis and Cathy Greenblatt – all addressing topics for which they are recognised as international experts.

This year’s lecturer was my friend and colleague, Dr Claire Hilton, who introduced the assembly to the story of Barbara Robb – a story I have referred to in my blogs previously because it is so wonderfully brought to light by Claire’s PhD and recently published book ‘Improving Psychiatric Care for Older People: Barbara Robb’s Campaign 1965-1975’  and because Barbara Robb’s work was conducted in association with heroes of my personal journey – Drs Russell Barton and Tony Whitehead.

Making full use of the trip to Worcester, Claire had visited the site of Powick Hospital during the morning. Powick was celebrated for its innovations in care and played a big part in sharing with a bewildered and unbelieving wider world, the conditions in which patients lived out their lives.

I found myself reflecting on the smaller St Wulstan’s Hospital  whose Medical Superintendent, Dr Morgan, came to Manchester to describe his work amongst patients with long-term mental disorders who had spent many years in hospital. Like Manfred Bleuler, who had described his life to an audience at the Maudsley Hospital, he lived as part of the community which was the hospital, and grew close to the resident patients and their families, gaining a special understanding and empathy for their condition and circumstances.

Dr Morgan and his nursing colleague, A.J Cheadle, wrote a series of papers describing their work and its successes, by enlightened use of work and other engaging activities in unlocking people’s potential from the grip of psychosis and institutionalisation.

I had seen and been impressed by similar approaches at Severalls Hospital with Russell Barton, and later by Cheadle Royal Industries and Don Early in Bristol.

The good news of St Wulstan’s was set aside in the surge to close mental hospitals. On balance this has to have been right, but the loss of identification of, and with, people with severe long-term illnesses, and lack of investment in therapeutic sheltered work, is a source of shame which should be recognised and acted on.

Like me, Dawn began her career in mental hospitals and has contributed to the changes which have drawn a wider and richer community of professionals to work with people with dementia and other mental disorders. It was lovely to see and hear her talk with such enthusiasm of the project to encourage the development and support of Meeting Centres – something that I would like to do in Trafford and Greater Manchester.

Wonderful too has been the insights by which teaching about dementia in schools can lead to understanding amongst parents and other members of family.

A week about and spent with people who care and are close to their work. This is the power that delivers.”

Barbara Robb’s work was featured in an episode of National Health Stories on BBC Radio 4 recently, entitled ‘Scandal’. The broadcast is available here.

Do you have stories to tell about mental health institutions in the 1960s and 70s? If you are willing to share you experiences, please email me at

We will not publish any material without your permission and names can be changed to protect identities.

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