The Leicester Borough Lunatic Asylum was opened on 2nd September 1869. By 1912 the hospital substituted "Mental Hospital" for "Lunatic Asylum" as "lunatic" was gaining obsolescence in referring to mental health. The present name "Towers Hospital" was acquired in early 1947.
As an administrative institution, the Towers Hospital held regular meetings with staff and with staff in other Leicester Health Institutions. There was also a General Meeting held in London which served as an assessment of mental health care throughout the country.
In order to clarify the purpose and terminology of the various Acts of Parliament instrumental in restructuring mental health care, the following is a brief outline on why they were necessary and the effects of each Act on patients.
Although in the 18th century mental asylums had become synonymous with barbarity and abuse, with the illegitimate confinement of the sane and the inhuman living conditions, some philanthropists endeavoured to bring these misdemeanours to light.
In 1808 it had been made law that each county was responsible for erecting an asylum which would be publicly funded. Of course, Leicester already had its county asylum by the time the Borough asylum was erected in 1869.
In 1890, The Lunacy Act was introduced. Under section 38 of this act, the Commissioners of the Board of Control were requested to visit mental institutions as inspectors and they were responsible for demanding the submission of "Special Reports" in relation to patients' Reception Orders.
With the ever-prevalent trends of the reduction in hospital beds and the demolition of hospitals many patients were dismissed under a discharge order and were never heard of thereafter. When the Mental Health Act of 1959 was introduced, it did not alleviate the continuing trend of discharging patients who should have received more careful attention. To aid bed shortages, patients could now be admitted as "Informal" patients which meant that they were in the same position as anyone needing attention at a general hospital. Several orders were made available for the detention of patients for involuntary psychiatric treatment. Section 25 was an Observation Order, lasting 28 days and requiring the authorization of two medical signatures (one an approved psychiatrist under section 28 of the Act). The patient must be proved to be suffering from a mental disorder which entitled him to hospital observation and thus detention for his own safety and well-being and those of others. Section 29 is an emergency order requiring only one medical signature and this lasted 72 hours.
If a person of apparent mental disorder caused a disturbance in a public place, the local constabulary were empowered to remove them to a 'Place of Safety' under section 136 for up to 72 hours. Section 30 applied to those already in hospital deemed in need of mental health treatment. It ruled that a patient could be held against his will for no more than 3 days. If necessary an Observation Order may be made after this or the patient could be returned to Informal Status.
The Mental Health Act of 1983 strengthened the aims of the 1959 Act and the 1982 amendment. The primary change within this legislation was the recognition of patients rights especially with regard to compulsory detention.
The importance of a collection of this nature is shown in its wealth of information. It may be of interest to those in the mental health profession wishing to examine case histories. Genealogists may also find this useful. But because of its status as a little known subject in society, it remains fascinating. One day, this information will be accessible to all.