A History of the Isle Of Wight Hospitals by E. F. Laidlaw

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Parkhurst Prison Hospital

The hospitals at Albany Barracks and Parkhurst Prison Hospital, besides their spatial propinquity have it in common that they provided for what may fairly be called a captive clientele exclusively male, and a population officially directed to the Island rather than one born there or coming there from choice.

Parkhurst Prison was initiated about 1840 as a training establishment for boys sentenced to transportation, generally to Australia or New Zealand. About 4,000 boys in all passed through Parkhurst, but after the practice of transportation ceased it became for a time a prison for women; but from 1869 it was exclusively a male prison. The hospital is a separate building within the prison confines; a four storey building with four wards and a number, about 40, of single cells or rooms; it also came to include a radiological department, an operating theatre and a physiotherapy department.

Before the days of the Health Service, the Medical Officers at the prison provided medical care for the prison staff and their families, visiting them at home if needed, and serving in fact as their General Practitioners; and a part of the hospital was set aside for the staff and their families who might need hospital care. In the early days, as mentioned, surgeons came from the adjacent Albany Hospital when needed, to operate upon the inmates of the Prison Hospital; this presumably came to an end when the barracks were closed or empty, and later local consultants were called in as required; Mr. Wilson Harlow during his years at Ryde undertook most of the surgery and was officially appointed as Surgeon to the Hospital, and was followed in this appointment by Mr. Gordon Walker; but other consultants, also visited especially Mr. Philip Grimaldi and Mr. Heckford who did ear, nose and throat work and ophthalmology there. When the other prisons in the neighbourhood, Camphill and Albany came into being, the Parkhurst Hospital served both these as well, so that it dealt with a total population of as many as 2,000; but in addition to its local function it served and continues to serve as a centre within the National Prison Service for psychiatry; prison inmates from all over the country have been brought to Parkhurst for psychiatric treatment and for some time regular sessions for electro-convulsion treatment was held, first at Whitecroft and later within the hospital itself until this form of treatment dropped out of favour. For a short time, about the turn of the century and because of overcrowding in Broadmoor Hospital, while Rampton was being built, a part of Parkhurst Prison was designated as an asylum for the criminally insane; but this was not considered a successful arrangement, in part because of lack of trained staff, and it was soon discontinued.

Another speciality of the Prison Hospital within the Prison Service was the treatment of respiratory disease and especially of Pulmonary Tuberculosis, and considerable numbers of patients from other prisons were moved there for such treatment in the 10 to 15 years after the introduction of the Health Service and before the need for treatment for Tuberculosis became less demanding.

During these years a solarium was constructed in order to provide the patients with abundant sunlight and daylight and when the flow of tuberculous patients ceased it was converted into the physiotherapy department.

Five Medical Officers were employed at the hospital, three attached especially to Parkhurst Prison itself and one each for Albany and Camphill, but all co-operating in the work of the hospital; also a number of local General Practitioners used to do some work there on a sessional basis. At all times patients sufficiently seriously ill to require it could be and were moved to hospitals within the region, mostly to the local hospitals on the Island.

All the hospital staff are of course employees of the Home Office as are the rest of the prison staff; the hospital workers are ranked as hospital officers, but a number of them, about one third of the total, having nursing qualifications, and in recent years an increasing number of female trained nurses are working there.

I am grateful to Dr David Cooper who gave me most of the information in this short account of the Prison Hospital.