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Ashworth is one of the three high-security psychiatric hospitals in England and Wales, alongside Rampton and Broadmoor, that exist to work with people who require treatment due to their "dangerous, violent or criminal propensities". Carstairs Hospital provides high-security care for patients from Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It is managed by Mersey Care NHS Trust. Patients are admitted to Ashworth Hospital in a range of ways but all come because they present a grave danger to themselves and/or other people. The majority, but not all, of Ashworth Hospital patients either come from prison, through the court system or from another secure unit. Not all patients who are referred to Ashworth Hospital are admitted. Each person being considered for admission is assessed for suitability by a panel of senior clinicians. Once admitted the patient undergoes a period of assessment in one of the admission wards. Assessment can take just a few weeks or many months depending on the complexity of the patient’s condition. Some patients only stay at the hospital for a short period; others stay for many years, with the average length of stay being approximately six years. Patients remain in the high-security service until they are safe and well enough to move to a medium-security or other unit. The majority of patients in Ashworth Hospital come from the North West, West Midlands or Wales. Whenever possible, patients in need of high-security care are treated in the high-security hospital which is nearest to their home in order to make it easier for relatives and friends to visit. The range of problems experienced by patients at Ashworth Hospital includes a wide variety of mental disorders, with the majority experiencing psychotic conditions such as schizophrenia. Many also have comorbid personality disorder and some have personality disorders alone.
Ashworth was formed from the merger of the old Moss Side Hospital (originally a learning-disability unit once used for the treatment of shell shock in World War I) and the vastly more modern and considerably more appropriate Park Lane Hospital, opened as a Broadmoor overspill unit in the early 1970s.
Like all the high secure hospitals, there have been major public inquiries, but none for over a decade: Blom-Cooper in 1992 and Fallon in 1998. It currently provides care for some 220 male patients.
In the surrounding area of Maghull, Lydiate, Melling and beyond, Ashworth is noted for the weekly test of its alarm system, sounded at 9:00 am every Monday morning. The alarm, based on the air raid sirens used in WW II, is audible in much of the surrounding area, as far afield as the outskirts of Kirkby, Crosby and Skelmersdale. It is intended to warn residents and institutions of escapees, of which there have been two in its history as a psychiatric hospital. There have, however, been no escapes from within the current site and in this respect it is unique among the English high-security hospitals.
Ashworth currently has 14 wards.
A wide variety of pharmacological, rehabilitative and psychological treatments are available. Rehabilitative and creative activity is supported with patients frequently entering work for the Koestler awards winning 27 prizes in 2011. In collaboration with The Reader Organisation reading groups have been set up in which staff and patients read literature together, promoting confidence and developing communication and other skills.
Patients of note
- "Britain's Most Violent Prisoner", Charles Bronson
- One of the "Moors Murderers", Ian Brady.
- The "Cardiff Ripper", Richard Gwilym
- Robert Sartin, responsible for the Monkseaton shootings
- Andrew Dawson, one of very few people in the UK to have been given a whole life tariff
- "Police Killer", Dale Cregan
- John Jenkin, a schizophrenic who murdered his mother and sister at their home in 2013
- "Ashworth Hospital". Mersey Care NHS Trust. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "Ashworth Hospital: Patient services". Mersey Care NHS Trust. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "Ashworth Hospital: Services provided". Mersey Care NHS Trust. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "Ashworth Hospital: Psychological Practice". Mersey Care NHS Trust. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "2011 awards results". Koestler Trust. 13 December 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "World Mental Health Day". The Reader Organisation. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- Weston, Mary; McCann, Eleanor (2010). "Get Into Reading with Mersey Care NHS Trust". Mental Health and Social Inclusion (Emerald Group Publishing Limited) 15 (1). ISSN 2042-8308. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- Dyer, Lindsey (1 May 2010). "Setting up a reading group". Mental Health Practice 13 (8). doi:10.7748/mhp2010.05.13.8.21.c7729/. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
- "Paranoid schizophrenic’s ‘act of inhuman savagery’". Wales Online. 25 October 2007. Retrieved 29 September 2013.