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1968: Hospital blaze kills 21 patients
Twenty-one female patients have died in a fire which swept through a wing of the Shelton Mental Hospital near Shrewsbury in Shropshire.

Another 14 women were hurt in the blaze, which started in a locked secure ward, and have been admitted to hospital in Shrewsbury.

The alarm was raised soon after midnight by a night nurse, but the fire quickly gained a hold on two floors of the women's wing.

At one point, there were 12 fire engines and 70 firefighters tackling the blaze. It took them two hours to bring it under control.

Shelton Hospital - parts of which are more than 100 years old - has about 800 patients.

It is believed the fire started from a cigarette end, discarded by one of the patients.

There were two night nurses on duty with an unqualified junior, responsible for 98 of the hospital's most severely mentally ill patients.

Most of the women were asleep and some were unable to move from their beds without assistance. Some 100 patients were taken to safety.

The Shropshire Group Hospital management committee secretary, John Mallett, was called to the fire. He praised the hospital staff and firefighters for the way they handled the blaze.

"The staff managed to dress before rushing to the wing and led the patients out calmly and in an orderly fashion," he said.

"The other patients in the hospital were not affected. We managed to prevent any panic whatsoever."

He denied claims the hospital was overcrowded and patients were sleeping in corridors.

He also rejected suggestions the ward was understaffed.

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Burnt remains of beds outside Shelton Hospital
It is believed the fire was started by a discarded cigarette

The aftermath of the Shelton Hospital fire

In Context
The final death toll was 24. Most of the patients died from smoke inhalation.

An accident investigation found no night staff had had training in fire evacuation procedures at the hospital for at least 20 years. A report in 1963 by the Shropshire Fire Service stressed the need for training nurses in fire procedure but none was given.

It also blamed a delay of 10 minutes between Nurse Kathleen Griffiths first noticing smoke and subsequently calling the fire brigade which led to so many deaths.

The report found staffing at the hospital was "on the low side". The policy of locking patients into their ward was accepted practice - although the 1959 Mental Health Act said as few patients as possible should be locked up.

Fire safety procedures at hospitals in the Midlands were reviewed after the Shelton fire.

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