“We used to have a lot of debate about freedom…” Highvolume Play Pause Stop

Set of keys from Calderstones
Courtesy of Joanne Marshall

Duncan Mitchell was born in 1962, and trained as a nurse at Calderstones between 1983 and 1986. After qualification he became a staff nurse, then deputy charge nurse on a resettlement area at Calderstones. After nearly two years he left to work in community based settings. He has been involved in the lives of people with learning disabilities both as a practitioner and academic most of his adult life.

During his nurse training (1983-6) at Calderstones, Duncan and other student nurses grappled with ethical dilemmas – often brought about by what ideas such as individual freedom and choice meant in practice.


“We used to have a lot of debate about freedom, individual freedom but it was more around the practicalities of – So a good example – there was a rule that there were no locked doors at Calderstones. That was a really big thing – can’t have locked doors at Calderstones. One – it is illegal to have locked doors at Calderstones. And also it’s not right. And I remember that first ward I was on, we used to lock the doors. If we hadn’t locked the doors there was one young woman in particular on there who was, would have been really at significant risk. She would run out on to the road. At best there were 2 staff for probably 8 or 9 people, so we couldn’t have one to one. And locking the door was just keeping her safe. Now we knew we weren’t allowed to do it but we also know we did do it. The Nursing Office knew we did do it. And now and again she would come in and ‘tut tut’ at the locked door, but then she would lock it after her, ’cause we all had these shutter keys – one key would lock and unlock all the doors. So we had a lot of discussion around what was right and what was wrong about individual freedom.

“And also choice. I remember lots of discussions about choice. Would we be critical about staff who didn’t help people with choice? Yeah we would. There was that issue. But then there was the same issue about… for example if somebody we worked with chose to wear a t-shirt in January, we’d have quite long debates about, Well that’s their choice to wear t-shirt in January. But then they’re going to be cold and that’s not safe. They were the sorts of debates we used to have.”

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