Enoch Powell delivered his ‘water tower’ speech

Statisticians in the Ministry of Health had followed the effect of the newly introduced psychiatric drugs and the early movement towards community care in reducing admissions and speeding up discharge, with a resultant fall in occupied beds. Speaking to the National Association for Mental Health in 1961, Minister of Health Enoch Powell outlined his desire to see greater community care provision for mental health patients. Powell estimated that within 15 years, the number of psychiatric beds could fall by 75,000 and that many of the existing institutions would need to close. Further, he felt that the existing buildings were not fit for purpose and should be closed and not used for other functions. 

‘This is a colossal undertaking, not so much in the new physical provision which it involves, as in the sheer inertia of mind and matter which it required to be overcome. There they stand, isolated, majestic, imperious, brooked over by the gigantic water-tower and chimney combined, rising unmistakable and daunting out of the countryside – the asylums which our forefathers built with such immense solidity to express the notions of their day. Do not for a moment underestimate their powers of resistance to our assault…

… We have to strive to alter our whole mentality about hospitals and about mental hospitals especially. Hospital building is not like pyramid building, the erection of memorials to endure to a remote posterity. We have to get the idea into our heads that a hospital is a shell, a framework, however complex, to contain certain processes, and when the processes change or are superseded, then the shell must most probably be scrapped.’

Conservative

Prime Minister: Harold Macmillan

Health Minister: Enoch Powell