Woodbridge Hospital is the only state mental hospital in Singapore. It is presently housed in a very modern building complex off Hougang Street 51.The hospital moved into these premises in April 1993, a site very near to the old Woodbridge Hospital off Jalan Woodbridge which had since been demolished. Woodbridge was thought to be named after a wooden bridge at a nearby stream of Seletar River. The new hospital complex which consists of nine blocks, each from two to six storeys high, cost $200 million to build. The 45-ha site also houses the newly established Institute of Mental Health (IMH). It is much more compact compared to the old Woodbridge hospital which sprawled on an 80-ha land. However, the gross floor area was increased by 55%. Woodbridge Hospital was also the largest hospital in Singapore in terms of bed numbers at 2,200. The new hospital contrasted to the previous one where floors were mainly stark cement and grilles were corroded. Modern facilities with state-of-the-art technology, complemented by well-kept courtyards and lush green environment, injected a vibrancy to the new hospital. The name Woodbridge Hospital is retained for the inpatient facilities (ward blocks) while the outpatient facilities are called IMH. However, both share the same administration.
History and development of Woodbridge Hospital In the early days, those who were mentally ill did not receive any medical treatment. They were described as insane and jailed with convicts in a filthy overcrowded Convict Gaol, looked after by convicts. It was only when a mentally disturbed killed another person in prison in October 1840 that the colonial government paid attention. A 30-bed Insane Hospital was built in 1841 at the corner of Bras Basah Road and Bencoolen Street. The care of the mentally ill was administered by medical practitioners and some expatriate nurses. A decade later, the hospital was enlarged and by 1860, the number of patients increased to 131. Treatment continued to be purgatives given once a month with tartar antimony, counter-irritation drugs, Belladona and morphia administered as sedatives. In May 1861, the Insane Hospital was moved to a site near the Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital and renamed Lunatic Asylum. It moved again in 1887 to College Road this time to accomodate up to 300 beds. The British continued to consider isolation as therapeutic for mentally-ill patients.
When a cholera outbreak occurred in August 1887 in the asylum, the removal of the mental patients into the newly-built asylum at Sepoy Lines was hastened. The approach at this new asylum was more holistic and focused on the lifestyle of patients. There were fewer restrictions and when Dr William Ellis was appointed psychiatrist and medical superintendent, he did away with straightjackets and wanted physicians to treat mentally-ill patients with more dignity.
In 1928, the Mental Hospital was built at Yio Chu Kang and took in all mental patients. Treatment began to include farm work as rehabilitation. When the Japanese occupied Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese occupied the building. Some patients were sent home while 500 patients were transferred to St John's Island. Many of these 500 patients died of starvation and those who remained were returned to the hospital at the end of 1942. After Singapore's surrender to the Japanese, 800 civilian casualities were tramsferred to the Mental Hospital. This hospital later became the Japanese Civilian and Military Hospital.
When the British took over the hospital after the war, the female section became the Royal Air Force Hospital while the male section became the Japanese POW Hospital. Troops were soon gradually evacuated and the Mental Hospital re-opened on 15 April 1946 and the building was restored. In 1951, the Mental Hospital was renamed Woodbridge Hospital and by 1958, it could accommodate up to 2,000 patients. It expanded to include a social works department in 1955. New drugs and effective procedures were introduced.
By the 1970s, the Ministry of Health realised the need to cater specifically to children and adolescents with psychological and emotional problems. A Child Guidance Clinic, later re-named Child Psychiatric Clinic was set up at Outram Road General Hospital. In 1982, Woodbridge Hospital opened a child psychiatric in-patient unit with 18 beds for children.
Moving to current premises Talks of building a new hospital was already underway in 1984 as the 65-year old hospital was no longer adequate for modern treatment requirements. Psychiatric hospitals and centres in the United States, Canada and Hong Kong were studied in preparation for the new hospital. By April 1989, construction began. On April 1993, the hospital moved to new, modern premises which were suitable for modern psychiatry practice. The old site were slated for the development of apartments.
The hospital occupies 45 ha of land of which 30 ha have been developed. To facilitate the operation and implementation of the programme, Woodbridge Hospital was organised and the Institute of Mental Health/ Woodbridge Hospital was established.
The cost of running the hospital is high. One of the reasons being is that there are many long-term patients who have no family support. The hospital was in the red for $7 million in 2001. To cut cost, 900 stable patients were transferred to homes or care centres where there would also be better opportunities for these patients to obtain group therapy and work for an allowance, while helping them to reintegrate into society.
In 2005, IMH/WH became the first mental health institution in Asia to receive the Joint Commission International accreditation which benchmarks standards of care at IMH/WH with international standards. IMH/WH has since there received several accolades.
The information in this article is as valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.