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Deep sleep.

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About this work


A documentary about the abuse of psychiatric patients in Sydney, Australia, from 1963-78 by a physically and mentally damaging "deep sleep" treatment, forcibly inflicted by Dr. Harry Bailey and his team in crude imitation of the British psychiatrist Dr. William Sargant.

So-called "deep sleep" treatment, administered over period of 15 years at Chelmsford, a private psychiatric hospital in Pennant Hills, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, was implicated in the deaths of 70 patients, 24 of whom committed suicide. The story is told by ex- patients, the survivors of the deceased, and a nurse, with comments by a Citizens Rights representative, the Attorney General of New South Wales and a British professor of clinical pharmacology, Dr. Tony Smith. Dr. Harry Bailey, a young Australian psychiatrist, visited London in the late 1950s. He met the British psychiatrist Dr. William Sargant, then working at St. Thomas's Hospital, and was so impressed by Sargant's practice of deep sleep treatments involving induced coma and ECT that on returning to Australia he devised his own version, gathered a supporting team of doctors and began putting his new methods into practice at Chelmsford in 1963. His principal assistants were Dr. John Herron, Dr. Ian Gardner (contracted to administer electro-convulsive therapy) and Dr. John Gill. Psychiatrists referred patients to Chelmsford for observation or short periods of treatment, but patients expecting to stay just 2 or 3 days were almost literally seized by Dr. Bailey, to awaken 2 or 3 weeks later, physically and mentally impaired, and with horrifying memories of restraint and brutality as they slipped in and out of drug- induced comas. Barry Hart was referred to Chelmsford in 1973 for depression following a unsuccessful eye operation. He was admitted for a few days' rest. On entering the ward he was immediately alarmed by the shaven and scarred appearance of some other patients. He refused to sign permission for shock treatment but accepted tablets, believing them to be minor tranquilisers. Subsequently, he recalls partial loss of perception, being strapped down, and suffering appalling chest pains. He vomited blood and suffered pneumonia and brain damage. His partial unconsciousness lasted two weeks, during which time he was given ECT without his consent. Following his stay at Chelmsford he had to be treated at a general hospital for pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, thrombosis and brain damage. After 7 years' legal action he was awarded $60,000 damages against Dr. John Herron, Dr. Bailey's partner. Pat Lloyd, depressed and under the influence of alcohol, was taken to Chelmsford in 1965 by her exasperated husband. Comatose for 3 weeks, she awoke to find herself naked and tied down in a room with other groaning patients. She was subjected to ECT without anaesthetic. Getting out of Chelmsford could be difficult; a 1965 patient speaks of her husband's shock at seeing her bleeding from the mouth and nose after she had been given ECT. He was refused permission to remove her until a large bill was paid and had to take urgent measures to raise the cash. Another woman tells of her brother's stay at Chelmsford. As an offender, treatment at Chelmsford was his alternative to a prison sentence. In his post-treatment state he was skeletal, with hair loss. After discharge he became addicted to barbiturates and committed suicide. An accident victim, referred to Chelmsford by his insurance company to substantiate his claim for headaches, was kept for two weeks without visits. After this time his wife found him heavily sedated and restrained. He died in the hospital. His wife complained to the police but the coroner only expressed concern at the level of drugs administered. No action was taken. Deaths were sometimes caused by infections directly resulting from long periods in a state of coma, one such victim dying from gangrene of the bowel. Dr. Bailey concealed the causes of these deaths by issuing death certificates carrying false information. Tony Smith, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology, comments on the drug regime at Chelmsford. In the case of John Adams, a patient of Dr. John Gill who died after a very heavy form of deep sleep involving double doses of tuinol, neulactil, sodium amytal, methadone, largactyl, valium and traxine, Professor Smith points to the significant danger of drug interaction causing heart failure. Such enormous doses can hardly ever be justified, and if they are given, the patient should be held in an intensive care unit. In 1992, Dr. Gill was charged with the manslaughter of John Adams. Even when the Chelmsford abuses began to be publicised, they attracted no official sanction. Merrilyn Walton, Director of the Complaints Unit at the New South Wales Department of Health, explains that the Department was headed by doctors who were accustomed to respect each other's clinical freedom and were reluctant to criticise a member of their own profession. Up to 1973, 16 patients died. The Department of Health, obliged to license and inspect private hospitals, had inspected Chelmsford during that period and reported that doors and stairways had been measured and that the catering arrangements had been checked. Jan Eastgate, Citizens' Commission on Human Rights representative, comments that the inspectors could not have failed to notice the distressed state of the patients. By 1978, there was overwhelming evidence that deep sleep treatment was dangerous but Dr. Bailey carried on as usual. However, Dr. Brian Boettcher, a psychiatrist who had referred patients to Chelmsford, had become concerned and called a meeting of his colleagues which resulted in a challenge to Dr. John Herron. Dr. Herron ignored the challenge but news of Boettcher's meeting reached the owners of Chelmsford and by 1979, deep sleep treatment had been abandoned. In 1980 Barry Hart at last succeeded in his suit against Dr. Herron for "wrongful treatment". Dr. Herron was then charged with the manslaughter of Miriam Podia, a a patient who had died of gangrene of the bowel while undergoing deep sleep treatment. Her condition was not diagnosed by any of the Chelmsford doctors, although nurses had called attention to her obvious abdominal infection. The charge was dropped, but inquests on two other patients were re-opened. In 1988, a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate Chelmsford and after two and a half years it made strong recommendations concerning irresponsible therapeutic experimentation and gross negligence. Drs. Bailey, Herron and Gill were found guilty of serious neglect while another member of the team, Dr. Ian Gardner, admitted responsibility. Yet Drs. Herron, Gardner and Gill were still practising at time this programme was made (1991-2). Dr. Herron continues to argue that his treatment was similar to Dr. Sargant's. However, Sargant's patients were aroused three times a day for meals, while the Chelmsford patients were so deeply comatose that they had to be fed by tubes. By this time Dr. Bailey's own mental state was deteriorating and in the late '70s, Herron had him admitted to Chelmsford as a patient and administered deep sleep treatment to him without his consent. In 1985, on the eve of another court action being brought against him by a former patient, Bailey's lawyer received a letter from Sargant himself, in which Sargant utterly repudiated Bailey's treatment, pointing out that he himself had abandoned deep sedation with tube feeding in the 1940s, following the deaths of two patients. Finding himself thus disowned by Sargant, Bailey committed suicide, mentioning in his note that he had heard that police were even then on their way to interview Sargant in London. Unfortunately, the programme gives no details of this interview.


[Place of publication not identified] : Channel 4 TV, 1992.

Physical description

1 videocassette (VHS) (60 min.) : sound, color, PAL.


Supporting paperwork available in the department.

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