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In the shadow of the asylum: the Stanley Royd Salmonella outbreak of 1984

Abstract

In August 1984, an outbreak of Salmonella at Stanley Royd Psychiatric Hospital in Yorkshire led to the deaths of 19 elderly residents. It was an incident that attracted a good deal of comment in both the local and national press, and one that had enduring relevance for ideas about psychiatric care, food handling and catering provisions, hospital management and the official inspection of medical institutions. This article examines the impact that the 1984 outbreak had on official and popular perceptions of these issues. As well as bringing to public attention the fact that large numbers of vulnerable elderly patients were long-term residents in psychiatric hospitals, the Salmonella outbreak highlighted the inadequacies of Victorian hospital buildings in modern healthcare. Throughout the press reports and official investigations examined here, the provenance of Stanley Royd was repeatedly emphasised; its Victorian fabric persistently interfered with cleaning regimes, cold storage facilities and the conveyance of food to patients. Within institutions like Stanley Royd, ‘new’ and ‘old’ risks came together—the microscopic bacterium and the crumbling nineteenth-century building—to create a strong critique of existing psychiatric care. The episode also highlighted broader problems within the NHS, such as systems of management and the status of psychogeriatrics as a specialism.

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