'I have never had such a strong reaction as I did when I told people I was visiting the high-secure former special hospital Broadmoor.'

Hard as it may be to believe in the gentle world of health policy journalism, I have done a few things in the course of this job that have raised eyebrows among my loved ones.

Going to medium-secure units makes some fear my safety will be put at risk. My visit to a maximum-security prison probably worried my mother the most. But I have never had such a strong reaction as I did when I told people I was visiting the high-secure former special hospital Broadmoor.

Even some of the most liberal and educated of my friends came out with comments along the lines of 'string 'em up' about the patients. Others wanted to know if I would get a chance to see some of the hospital's most infamous patients..

Yes, of course I would. Journalists are always allowed to wander around Broadmoor at will. Picture the scene:

'Now, Emma, before we talk about our clinical model redevelopment plans, meet Mr Sutcliffe.'

I don't think so.

Having said that, I extend my thanks to the hospital's management for actually allowing me to see two wards and the education department, albeit at something of a heightened speed before patients returned from lunch.

I have not visited high-secure wards before. Meeting one or two patients helped me assure those on the outside that they did not have two heads and did in fact look like any other bloke you could see walking down a local high street.

I have visited the other special hospitals before but somehow neither Ashworth nor Rampton elicit the same strong reactions in the general public.

The look of Broadmoor does not help, of course. It is huge, it is Victorian, it is frankly pretty ugly.

It is also perched on top of a hill in a rather lovely setting. In different circumstances any developer would give their right arm to build some executive homes there.

Hopefully by now, dedicated HSJ readers that you are, you will have read my feature on West London Mental Health trust's plans to redevelop the hospital. (If you read this column.before the news and features, I'm flattered.).

It is a massive undertaking and I wish them well.

Read Emma Dent's feature, 'Behind locked doors', in the 17 May 2007 issue of HSJ.