Mental health and learning disability milestones through the decades

Since the NHS was founded on 5 July 1948 there have been huge changes in the way we think about mental health, learning disability and neurodiversity – and in how we support people. Take a look at some of the key milestones and developments over the last 75 years and how they have affected what we do in Devon.

In 1988



Learning disability inpatient services at Langdon Hospital in Dawlish close. The majority of people living there were ‘repatriated’ back to their families, to where they had previously lived or moved into local residential provision across Devon.



Geoff Bird MBE, 101, carer and learning disability champion, talks about his involvement in improving services, from the closure of asylums in the 1980s, fundraising and receiving his MBE from Her Majesty The Queen.

In 1986



The Royal Western Counties Institution in Starcross is the first asylum to close as part of the UK's plan to treat people with mental health or learning disability needs in the community.

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Katy Welsh qualified as a learning disability nurse. She talks about the changes in that profession and to care and treatment to people with a learning disability over the years.

In 1983



The Mental Health Act is formally approved by The Queen on May 9 1983 and came into effect on September 30 that year. It has been amended three times, first in 1995, again in 2001 and once more in 2007.

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Peter Aitken starts his career in medicine before moving to psychiatry. He talks about the lack of NICE guidelines, evidence-based care and the stigma associated with mental health.

In 1981



Care in the Community Green Paper recommends the closure of long-stay hospitals due to increasing criticism and concern about the quality of long term care for dependent people. The policy aims to make adequate provision wherever possible for the care and treatment of people in the community.



Open Dialogue is initiated in Western Lapland in Finland. An innovative approach to people in a psychiatric crisis. Results show reduction in hospitlisation, use of medication and recididivism, when compared to usual treatments.

Now, in 2018, we've been selected as one of six organisations nationally to trial Open Dialogue treatment.