Nursing in Exminster

The term 'Psychiatry' was coined in 1808 by Dr Johann Christian Reil and during the 19th century, psychiatry was established as a profession.

Exminster Hospital was opened in 1845. 

Dr John Charles Bucknill was appointed as the first Medical Superintendent in 1844.  Whereby feeling like the Hospital was being run with a penal attitude - most of the staff were prison trained - brought in the training scheme for nurses.

Initially mental health nurses were called "keepers", or "keepers of the insane". Who, according to Dr William Ellis, "were to be given better pay and training so as to attract more respectable intelligent people"

"Night Attendants" were appointed in 1878.

The first and second World Wars saw a depletion in nursing staff, and in 1942 the Hospital was bombed, with the loss of lives of both patients and staff.

There were still the strict regimes to follow the Second World War and segregation of patients continued. The wards were still all locked and you only held a key according to rank. If you were a member of the male staff, you had a male key. If you were a member of the female staff, you had a female key. Only hierarchy held a Master Key which enabled them to access all areas. Losing your keys was a disciplinary matter.

The wards were laid out as one long ward with beds on either side of the room known as "Florence Nightingale Wards". This made for easier vision of the patients but it meant little privacy for them.  Later, in the 1960s/70s, the wards were compartmentalized to give the patients privacy.

Moving up into the 60s/70s, there was still a stigma about mental health and general trained nurses were not very tolerant of mental health patients. If a patient needed to go to the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, they had to have a mental health nurse escort them and stay with them during their stay there.

The imminent closure of Exminster Hospital in the 1980s brought huge changes to the lives of both nursing staff and patients.  It was a big upheaval for wards to be moved into smaller units around the area. There were mixed feelings about the closure, especially as some of the patients had never known any other 'home', with many having been taken there as small children, through no fault of their own, and never knowing a life in the community. There were others who felt that the time had come to move away from the vast institution of the Hospital. Whatever opinions the nurses may have had, closure was going to happen by July 1987.