A PIONEERING doctor who championed more humane treatment of the mentally ill is recognised by a blue plaque on the site of Ealing Hospital.

John Conolly was superintendent at the sprawling Middlesex County Asylum, Hanwell, which housed more than 800 ‘pauper lunatics.’

Dr Conolly noted, on his appointment in 1839, that many of its more unruly inmates were kept in a variety of shackles and restraints.

He also recognised existing drug treatments were often ineffective and dangerous by using substances including antimony, digitalis and strychnine.

The use of leeches, regularly purging the bowels with enemas and a spinning chair to ‘bring patients to their senses’ were also employed.

He knew many conditions were beyond treatment and sought a more compassionate approach, which was reinforced when he visited a privately-run asylum in Lincoln.

There, he found a fellow doctor who managed 150 patients with no need for mechanical restraints and subsequently ordered the removal of ‘all instruments of restraint,’ increased the ratio of keepers to patients as well as increasing their wages.

Dr Conolly noted: “The wards are less noisy, [while] frantic behaviour and manic paroxysms are less frequent,and patients are more cheerful and cleaner.”

Additional measures included warm baths before bed to calm distressed patients and the provision of five giant rocking horses to ride.

Today, the site is occupied by Ealing Hospital and present-day mental health services offered by West London Mental Health Trust.

Ealing is home to seven blue plaques, including tennis champion Fred Perry and Sir Michael Balcon, who ran Ealing Film Studios.