NURSES who worked in the old Winwick Hospital have reflected on the past of Warrington’s mental health care services to mark the 70th birthday of the NHS.

Our health service turns 70 on Thursday, July 5, having been first formed in 1948.

In the early days of the NHS, most of the town’s mental health services were based at the Fifth Lancashire Country Asylum - which would later become known as Winwick Hospital.

The sprawling site first opened in 1902 and had beds for 2,000 patients, an onsite football pitch, tennis courts and a grand ballroom.

During the First World War, the site was known as the Lord Derby War Hospital and cared for injured servicemen.

But Winwick Hospital was closed and demolished in 1997.

The modern Hollins Park Hospital was rebuilt to a smaller scale on the north west of the original site, with remaining land sold and redeveloped as housing.

Only one original building - Hollins Park House - remains, having been renovated and converted into office space for use as North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s headquarters.

Now, long serving NWBH staff who worked in the old hospital have shared their experiences of how mental health care his changed in the years since the introduction of the NHS.

Advanced occupational therapist Rachel Hills, who works in the trust's older people's psychiatric liaison team, said: "After graduating from the Cardiff School of Occupational Therapy, I secured a three-month contract at Winwick Hospital in 1992 at the age of 21 and moved into the nurses' accommodation onsite.

"The hospital was in retraction and there were only about five people left in the entire accommodation block.

"It was rather eerie at night time - I remember waking one night to see a mouse climbing my curtains.

"On the plus side, I had about 10 bathrooms to choose from.

"My three-month contract was extended - however what I didn't know back then was that I'd still be working for this organisation, albeit having gone through several name changes, 25 years later."

When the health service was first formed, patients admitted to hospital due to mental health problems would often be kept in asylums for long periods of time or even the rest of their lives.

Provisions for mental health care were left out of the original 1946 plans for the NHS, before being included in an eleventh hour decision.

Dorothy Thompson began her career in the NHS 45 years ago as a nurse cadet, and worked across all wards at Winwick Hospital.

Qualifying as a registered nurse in 1992, Dorothy worked at Hollins Park Hospital until her retirement at the end of last year.

She said: "The old Winwick Hospital site was huge, and I even lived on the site myself for a while - it was like a big community in itself.

"The NHS and in particular mental health has changed a lot since the start of my career, and most of these changes have been for the better.

"There's obviously a lot more understanding and a better awareness of mental health now, and privacy wasn't valued in the same way back then.

"One ward had 30 patients all sleeping in one big dormitory - now, every service user has their own private ensuite bedroom.

"People also tended to stay on the wards for a much longer time back then - there's a much greater focus on care in the community now."

Dr Phil Cooper completed his mental health nursing training back in 1993.

The nurse consultant in dual diagnosis added: "I remember first entering the Old Winwick Hospital with apprehension, but quickly found that people with mental health problems are no different from anyone else.

"We all walk a fine line, and mental fitness is something we should never take for granted.

"I've learned so much from the people I've met who use our services, and their expertise is something we now use superbly to improve services.

"Mental health care has changed so much in the last 25 years - from massive dormitories to private ensuite bedrooms.

"Long may the progress continue."