AS A RESULT of the Cardiff case and the outbreak in the Rhondda, vaccination programmes were carried out at the Morgannwg hospital complex near Bridgend, which included the Glanrhyd Mental Hospital. The files show that most staff at the hospital were vaccinated – or re-vaccinated – during this period, but a decision was taken not to vaccinate elderly, infirm patients such as the 45 women on F3 (Langland Ward), many of whom were suffering from dementia.
On 2 April, the South Wales Echo’s headline read ‘Smallpox All-clear Likely Tonight’. Next day it reported: ‘Smallpox – No More Cases Expected’.
On 6 April, four patients on Langland Ward at Glanrhyd were reported to be ill with what might be smallpox. They were seen by the district Medical Officer of Health (Dr Alun Evans) and Consultant Dermatologist, Dr E. Waddington. Smallpox was diagnosed in eight patients – and the worst phase of the South Wales outbreak had begun.
The ward was isolated and an emergency medical conference continued until after midnight. It was decided that patients suffering from smallpox would be transferred to the Blackmill Isolation Hospital in the Ogmore Valley. A senior registrar, Dr V. S. Pillutla volunteered to be locked into the hospital with them. Two nurses also volunteered to go to Blackmill to nurse the patients.
Volunteer nurses also cared for the patients isolated on Langland ward, living ‘under most uncomfortable circumstances’ until caravans were brought into the courtyard behind the ward, which they could then use. Seven nurses and two domestic staff were locked into the ward. Among them was Joan Halstead, a nursing assistant, who had been working on the ward when smallpox was confirmed.
Speaking in 2002, she remembered the choice they had been given – either to go home and be quarantined for 19 days along with everyone else in the house, or to stay on the ward. ‘If I went home, my husband had to stay home. I was in there anyway … that’s what happened, I made decision there and then.’
The hospital files report that as soon as smallpox was diagnosed, ‘almost all patients and staff who had not been previously vaccinated were done’. For Joan Halstead, the enormity of the situation hit home: ‘We had to go up the corridor and the door was opened for vaccination. I had to put my arm through the door and saw that the doctor that was giving the vaccination and his helper were all gowned, caps, masks, gloves and robes and wellingtons! Then it hit everybody, you thought, we’re in here with no protection.’
One patient on Ward F3 died on 7 April. Her body was sewn up in sheets and a blanket before being passed through the door to staff on the outside.
Staff at Blackmill were already caring patients from the Rhondda outbreak. They were now joined by a total of 20 patients from Glanrhyd, 11 of whom died between 8 and 16 April. Among the staff at Blackmill were Jan Moxham, Enfys John and Jennifer McCann.
Speaking in 2002, Enfys John explained why she volunteered to stay in. ‘They needed volunteers. I just went in with the girls I knew. My daughters could look after the house and my husband. We had phone calls every night – my son used to walk down the road and wave – and I would go to the wall.’
As the battle against the virus went on in Langland Ward and at Blackmill, the medical authorities tried to work out how it had got into the hospital. In his report on the South Wales outbreak, R.B. Morley-Davies highlights the case of a patient who had died on F3 on 25 March. She had fallen ill on 17 March and developed a rash on 20th, which was attributed to a reaction to penicillin. Though not recognised at the time, it appeared she had died of smallpox. But she had not left the hospital since being admitted in February 1961.
‘Big Search for Smallpox Carrier’ – South Wales Echo 9 April
How had the disease got into Glanrhyd? That question was never fully answered. In his report, Morley-Davies raised the possibility of ‘unknown cases’ who might have ‘intentionally evaded surveillance’ and formed the connecting links between the three phases of the outbreak.
He also raised the possibility that the disease might have been carried by air from the Heddfan Isolation Hospital on a hill less than a mile above Glanrhyd. The same possible explanation was suggested for the original case in the Rhondda, who lived below the Penrhys Isolation Hospital, to which Shuka Mia had been taken.
Morley-Davies concluded that ‘the most probable source of infection in both the Rhondda and Bridgend cases was a highly modified ambulant case which was not known to the authorities concerned’.