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Palgrave Macmillan

Improving Psychiatric Care for Older People

Barbara Robb’s Campaign 1965-1975

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  • Open Access
  • © 2017

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  • Explores the influence of AEGIS as a pressure group in improving care for older people in psychiatric hospitals, unlike other histories that attribute these improvements to the government
  • Offers a much-needed account of the experiences of older women, and other vulnerable people, on psychiatric wards
  • Highlights the ongoing relevance of AEGIS’s campaign today and how this history can inform current debate on chronic care for older people

Part of the book series: Mental Health in Historical Perspective (MHHP)

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About this book

This book is open access under a CC BY 4.0 license.

This book tells the story of Barbara Robb and her pressure group, Aid for the Elderly in Government Institutions (AEGIS). In 1965, Barbara visited 73-year-old Amy Gibbs in a dilapidated and overcrowded National Health Service psychiatric hospital back-ward. She was so appalled by the low standards that she set out to make improvements. Barbara’s book Sans Everything: A case to answer was publicly discredited by a complacent and self-righteous Ministry of Health. However, inspired by her work, staff in other hospitals ‘whistle-blew’ about events they witnessed, which corroborated her allegations. Barbara influenced government policy, to improve psychiatric care and health service complaints procedures, and to establish a hospitals' inspectorate and ombudsman. The book will appeal to campaigners, health and social care staff and others working with older people, and those with an interest in policy development in England, the 1960s, women’s history and the history of psychiatry and nursing.

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Table of contents (8 chapters)


“Claire Hilton’s book brings to life the story of a remarkable woman’s crusade to improve services for older people in the 60’s and 70’s. … Anyone working with older people or anyone interested in the history of services for vulnerable will find this book a fascinating book with useful insights to help improve future services.” (Anitha Howard, Old Age Psychiatrist, Issue 70, January, 2018)

“Buy the hardcopy to treasure, to read and to share with others. It tells the story of a talented woman whose original ambition was frustrated by injury. … We learn of the reluctance of the establishment to believe her and other witnesses … . It is here and needs to be read, loud and clear so that we can register a proper appreciation of what Barbara Robb did.” (Susan Mary Benbow,, November, 2017)

“This is a book that is essential reading for those interested in the history and development of psychiatric and learningdisability practice. … a goldmine of references that will provide on-going reading for researchers and students. It is well written with an engaging style. … This is a book for everyone working in health and social care services. It is also a book for the general public and those who are interested in wider social issues.” (Ibadete Fetahu, Nursing Times,, October, 2017)

“Hilton’s study reveals the development of a two tier system in post-war mental health services, in which political and medical apathy and insular institutional cultures condemned vulnerable older patients to degrading treatment. Barbara Robb’s campaign highlights the difficulties facing those who challenge substandard care practices, and the need to remain vigilant to the care of vulnerable people in today’s society.” (Vicky Long, Senior Lecturer in History, Glasgow Caledonian University, UK)

“Barbara Robb succeeded from both her sheer force of personality and her unerring instinct for how to engage with the media and with government – this book could double as a handbook to any campaigner seeking to highlight and reform injustices.” (Amanda Thompsell, Chair, Old Age Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK)

“Claire Hilton has reminded us of an iconic woman who singlehandedly did so much to change and improve the care of people who have mental health problems. This seminal work should be read by students of all disciplines who are studying for a career in working with the mentally ill.” (Peter Carter OBE, former general secretary and chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, UK)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Institute of Contemporary British History and Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, London, United Kingdom

    Claire Hilton

About the author

Claire Hilton has been a National Health Service psychiatrist in London, UK, for 18 years.  Her research has ranged from mental health of young people with sickle cell disease in Jamaica to clinical and historical aspects of old age psychiatry with a particular interest in the interface between history, policy and practice.

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Improving Psychiatric Care for Older People

  • Book Subtitle: Barbara Robb’s Campaign 1965-1975

  • Authors: Claire Hilton

  • Series Title: Mental Health in Historical Perspective

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-319-54812-8Published: 02 October 2017

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-319-85490-8Published: 10 August 2018

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-319-54813-5Published: 15 September 2017

  • Series ISSN: 2634-6036

  • Series E-ISSN: 2634-6044

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXIII, 283

  • Number of Illustrations: 13 b/w illustrations, 4 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: History of Britain and Ireland, Social History, History of Medicine, Gender Studies

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