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Something to Offer (1969)


Main image of Something to Offer (1969)
16 mm, 22 min, colour
DirectorBrigit Barry
Production CompanySamaritan Films
SponsorsDHSS, COI
ProducerAnne Balfour-Fraser
PhotographyPeter Jessop

The myriad attractions of a career as a psychiatric nurse, demonstrated by a look at the work of Plymouth Day Hospital.

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The latter part of the 20th century saw a gradual shift in the provision of care for the mentally ill from long-term internment in mental asylums to psychiatric units in district general hosptials. This transition was precipitated by health minister Enoch Powell's landmark 'water tower' speech (1961), which called for the dissolution of old-style mental hospitals. This was followed by the Hospital Plan (1962), which legislated the de-institutionalisation of mental health in favour of more 'inclusive' approach, paving the way for the present-day system of 'care in the community'. In line with the mandated 'open-door' policy, the 1960s saw the growth of the day hospital in the UK, offering care to patients with less severe forms of mental illness. In this film the warm, club-like atmosphere of a day hospital in Plymouth is showcased.

This protracted period of upheaval in care systems for the mentally ill and the state of uncertainty and transition in psychiatry did not ease its recruitment problems. Designed to entice career-minded school leavers into the field of psychiatric nursing, Something to Offer side-steps the frustrations and challenges inevitably associated with working with mentally ill people, instead focussing solely on the positive aspects of the job.

Photographer Peter Jessop's unobtrusive camera moves among patients and staff at the Plymouth Day Hospital, sensitively capturing an all-pervasive atmosphere of complete calm and contentment. Over this, softly spoken trainee nurses of both sexes list the rewards of the role and express their profound satisfaction - to the point of glibness when one trainee comments, 'The real reward is when someone comes in acutely ill and six weeks later he's well and you shake hands and say cheers', which, in the interest of recruitment, suggests a kind of 'production line' approach to the complex process of mental healing.

The 'window on what's happening' style claims a certain authenticity but as this is, after all, a shop-window for the profession, one can't help questioning what is not being shown. It is striking how far the picture depicted differs from highly critical contemporary reports. Allegations at the end of the 1960s of maltreatment of patients by psychiatric staff tainted the profession and prompted a public inquiry into the state of mental health care, which eventually resulted in the white paper 'Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped' (1971).

Something to Offer is a shortened version of On Hand to Listen, made for TV transmission (ITV tx. 20/10/1969).

Katy McGahan

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Video Clips
Complete film (21:20)
Life In Her Hands (1951)