Ely Inquiry Exposed a Hospital Cut off from the Mainstream; Former Patients and Staff Have Come Together to Tell the Inside Story of Ely Hospital for a New Exhibition at the Cardiff Story Museum. Clare Hutchinson Looks at the Forgotten History and Fascinating Stories Uncovered by Learning Disability Self-Advocacy Group Cardiff People First
Byline: Clare Hutchinson
IN 1967, a long-stay hospital for people with learning disabilities hit the headlines in a way that had rarely happened before.
Ely Hospital, built in 1862 as a Poor Law institution and converted to a long-stay NHS hospital in 1948, was hit with allegations of endemic maltreatment of its patients, including cruelty, verbal abuse, beatings, stealing of food, clothes and other items, indifference to complaints, lack of medical care and medication used to sedate patients.
"We must never forget," said one former resident who lived in the hospital for most of her life. "It was a terrible place".
The subsequent Ely Inquiry in 1969 exposed a hospital cut off from the mainstream, with little or no staff training and overcrowded wards.
A white paper followed in 1971, which eventually led to a total transformation in the way people with learning disabilities are cared for.
In total, there were 18 reports between 1968 and 1980 in which allegations of maltreatment of patients were investigated in what were then known as "mental illness" and "mental handicap" hospitals.
But it would be almost another three decades until Ely Hospital finally shut its doors and its patients were resettled in the surrounding community. Its doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, cooks and cleaners either retired or found jobs elsewhere.
Karen Jeffreys, who helped facilitate Cardiff People First' s Ely Hospital project, said, for many former patients, resettlement was a long and difficult process.
She said: "Many of the people who lived at Ely Hospital never had the chance to do many things on their own and that's what made resettlement so difficult.
"Even now, many people who were at the hospital find it difficult to make choices and still have a healthy respect for support workers."
Many of those former residents still work with the group and it was their idea to come forward and tell the wider public about their time at the institution.
"The idea came out of a meeting with members of Cardiff People First and our young people's group, Cardiff Young People First," said Karen.
"The older people brought along a video called Ely Voices, which they had done when the hospital was being closed, and it quickly became clear that the young people had no idea what Ely Hospital was.
"You could see that they really didn't know about what used to happen to some people with a learning difficulty."
After pitching their idea to the Heritage Lottery Fund, the group was given pounds 25,000 from the organisation to make it a reality. "After setting up a steering group made up of members from Cardiff and Newport People First, we sent out a letter via the social work team, who talked to former residents about telling their story," said Karen.
"Lots of people contacted us wanting to get involved - staff as well as former patients.
"Meanwhile, members of Young People First received training in camera and interviewing skills so they could interview former workers and the women's group went out to Glamorgan Archives to research the hospital's history." The exhibition itself includes a replica of the dayroom at Ely Hospital - complete with board games and Christmas decorations - as well as a bed like those on the wards, a shadow puppet theatre created by the young people's group and a snakes and ladders game, which shows the highs and lows of life at Ely Hospital. …