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Article: One man's nightmare: medicine for profit

(From Green Left Weekly c. 1996)

BARRY HART was one of the victims of the "deep sleep" treatment inflicted on patients at Chelmsford Private Hospital in the 1970s. The article printed here is excerpted from a speech he gave in Port Macquarie in April.

Although it is your health, your life and your money at stake, in the so-called health care system the patient or medical consumer, or in my case the patient victim, has virtually no say at all in how it is run. It is completely in the hands of the medical and allied medical professions, the health bureaucrats, lawyers and politicians to decide what is in your best interests.

I am a victim of the Chelmsford Private Hospital and its "deep sleep" treatment. In trying to get justice for the abuses I suffered at the hands of a psychiatrist, a psychologist and the staff of Chelmsford in February and March 1973, I have become a victim of the legal, bureaucratic and political systems.

In February 1973 I was falsely imprisoned and assaulted and battered in the hospital, situated in the Sydney suburb of Pennant Hills. I was knocked out, strapped down and put into a coma for two weeks with massive amounts of drugs in toxic and potentially fatal dosages. My respiratory rate rose from 16 breaths per minute to 150, my temperature to 39.9. I became incontinent, went into shock and became cyanosed. Whilst I was seriously physically ill, electricity was blasted into my brain on six separate occasions.

I suffered double pneumonia, pleurisy, deep vein thrombosis, a pulmonary embolus and anoxic brain damage as a consequence of this abuse and was shipped to Hornsby District Hospital, a public hospital, by ambulance for urgent treatment.

I also suffer chronic post-traumatic stress disorder -- flashbacks, heightened startle response, nightmares, panic attacks, situation anxiety.

This psychiatric abuse occurred because I arrived at the hospital complaining about anxiety and distress because of botched plastic surgery, said I was an actor and model, which I was, and asked to see a psychiatrist -- who I never saw. He had referred me to the hospital after a one-minute telephone call some days before.

After waiting for about an hour to see the psychiatrist, I decided to leave. I told a nurse I was leaving, walked out into the corridor and was given a tablet, allegedly to "settle me down", which knocked me out.

My complaint to a nurse at the hospital about the plastic surgery and the run-around from the surgeon was seen by him as a sign of obsessions, delusions and psychosis.

I might add that four plastic surgeons verified that the surgery I had undergone to correct an eyelid condition had been done negligently.

A study done by a US psychologist, called "On Being Sane in Insane Places", showed that psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses cannot distinguish sane people from insane people in such places as psychiatric hospitals -- the setting determines how your behaviour is perceived.

Legal run-around

It took me seven years to find lawyers willing and competent to take on my case and to obtain legal aid. The trial lasted four and a half months in the NSW Supreme Court in 1980.

The trial judge summed up against me for two and a half days -- misquoting the evidence and facts. Although the defendants built their defence on the allegation that my complaint about botched plastic surgery was a sign that I was delusional and psychotic, he would not let into evidence the reports of the eminent plastic surgeons that proved that my complaint was built on reality.

The judge trivialised my experience -- he told the jury that I had a couple of unhappy weeks in Chelmsford -- would not tell the jury how to work out damages, rejected exemplary damages and supported the defendants' case that I was mad and in need of psychiatric treatment.

Despite the judge, I received a jury verdict against the psychiatrist, Dr Herron, for false imprisonment, assault and battery and negligence and against the Chelmsford Private Hospital for false imprisonment.

I was awarded $6000 for false imprisonment, $18,000 for assault and battery and $36,000 for general damages, including past and future loss of earnings. Legal Aid took $18,000, and after a bit of interest was added, I ended up with about $45,000 -- just enough to lose my unemployment benefits.

The trial judge then awarded over half the costs of the trial against me for alleged misconduct by my barrister. He blamed my barrister for the length of the trial. The Legal Aid Commission now claims that I owe it $160,000 in costs.

I then had to plug on by myself to try to get justice.

In 1984 I saw my local member of parliament, Pat Rogan -- one of the very few good guys in this saga -- and he brought the matter up in parliament. The consequent press and media reports brought a lot of former Chelmsford patients into the light with horrifying stories of abuse.

In 1985 an action group was formed in an attempt to get a public inquiry. In 1988 the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age ran a daily, two-week series on Chelmsford. The coverage forced the Greiner government into a royal commission.

The royal commission found that there was a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the 1980 trial by Dr Herron and Dr Gill, a part owner of the hospital, and the receptionist Mollie Sansom, and that Dr Herron had deliberately lied under oath in the 1980 trial.

Despite the new evidence and the fact that Legal Aid can now recover its lost costs, three applications to the Legal Aid Commission for assistance have been refused.

Destroying the myth

What happened in Chelmsford had nothing to do with sleep or sleeping deeply. Patients were slowly poisoned with massive amounts of barbiturates and other drugs in all kinds of combinations, in potentially fatal dosages, and sent into a drug-induced coma. Whilst they were in this condition currents of electricity were repeatedly blasted through their brains.

At least 24 people died as a direct consequence of this abuse, and another 24 committed suicide within 12 months. One patient committed suicide the day after he was discharged.

False death certificates were signed by Drs Bailey and Herron to cover up the true cause of death. The Chelmsford Royal Commission found that Dr Bailey had signed at least 18 false death certificates. Patients were, as in my case, not only treated without consent but after refusing consent.

The staff were generally untrained and unqualified, with no experience or qualifications to nurse unconscious patients.

When Julie Smith, a nursing sister who had worked in the public hospital system, was appointed matron in late 1976, she was horrified at what she saw in the sedation ward and tried to have it closed. Dr Gill told her that the sedation ward was a money spinner for the hospital and part of her duties was to get more psychiatrists to refer patients to the hospital. She resigned after working there for only five months.

Despite the fact that the licence of the hospital required a matron with a general trained nursing certificate, Julie Smith was the only matron with this qualification.

Chelmsford was inspected every year by inspectors from the Private Hospitals Branch of the Department of Health. Despite the fact that the seriously ill and dying patients were shipped to public hospitals for treatment, nothing was done.

Private Hospitals Branch

Of course the Department of Health did have a Private Hospitals Branch, which had a duty to protect the public.

When a nurse from Chelmsford complained to it in 1978 and made a signed statement about the abuse of patients, Dr Hing, the head of the Private Hospitals Branch, filed the complaint for future reference.

Two years later, Dr Hing had still done nothing about the complaint. The reason Dr Hing gave to the royal commission was that consideration had to be given to the fact that "the livelihood of doctors was involved" and it had been decided to accumulate evidence first.

A previous complaint to the Department of Health by a nurse in 1970 met with a similar response.

The complaints that were finally lodged by the Department of Health in late 1985 and early 1986 -- six years after all the death and injury had stopped -- alleged gross negligence and lack of care for the welfare of patients by the Chelmsford narcosis doctors.

Because the Complaints Unit didn't have the power to conduct an investigation, all they did was gather the evidence from coroners' inquiries and my Supreme Court trial from 1980. All this evidence was on public record.

Some of the inquests were nearly 10 years old. This gave the doctors a chance to cry that these were old matters and that to go ahead with them after all this time was an abuse of process. The appeal court agreed and permanently stayed disciplinary proceedings. Had a royal commission been held in 1985, I believe the doctors would have been struck off.

The irony is that I lodged the complaint, based on evidence from the 1980 trial, with the investigating committee of the Medical Board in July 1983, over two and a half years before the Complaints Unit did so.

The face of private medicine

Chelmsford was the face of private medicine. Sister Julie Smith was concerned about the health of the patients. Dr Gill, the Gordon Gekko of medicine, was concerned about hospital profit. Psychiatrists Drs Bailey and Herron couldn't care less about their patients. The authorities did nothing.

In the 1980s the Department of Health's Complaints Unit was allegedly investigating Chelmsford so that complaints could be lodged against the doctors at the very same time that the Department of Health was an accessory to the injury and death that occurred in Chelmsford.

In 1971 the Poisons Branch of the Department of Health had sought approval of Dr Bailey's written standard sedation ward drug sheet and authority to administer the standard drug regime with written variations when required. The approval was duly given by the director of State Health Services even though the head of the poisons branch knew that large amounts of barbiturates could be fatal.

Subsequent complaints by inspectors about serious breaches of the Poisons Act by Dr Bailey were not prosecuted by the branch.

The Department of Health had been receiving complaints about Chelmsford since 1967. Nothing was done.

There are 130 former Chelmsford patients suing the doctors and the Department of Health in the NSW Supreme Court for negligence. The Department of Health has joined the doctors' indemnity fund, the NSW Medical Defence Union, now United Medical Defence, as a co-defendant.

The excuse that the Health Department lawyers gave to the royal commission as to why it didn't act on the Chelmsford complaints was that there was nothing in the legislation that required it to act, and therefore it was under no legal obligation to do anything.

The royal commissioner rejected this excuse.

The head of the Health Commission, now the Department of Health, Dr McEwen, said on Sydney radio in 1985 that the Health Commission had been investigating Chelmsford since 1975. The Chelmsford Royal Commission found that this was not true.

Health Care Complaints Act

The Health Care Complaints Act gives the decision as to whether a complaint is going to be investigated into the hands of a single unaccountable commissioner, who can reject a complaint for any reason.

You only have a 6% chance of getting legal aid for a case against a doctor or health professional in NSW, compared with a 68% chance in Victoria and 79% chance in Tasmania and 72% in the ACT. In all of the other states you have a better than 40% chance.

Despite the fact that the head of the Health Commission/Health Department did not tell the truth about alleged investigations into Chelmsford -- they were in fact not occurring -- and it took a $15 million royal commission to find out this fact, there is no way that anyone can find out what the Complaints Commission is doing about complaints.

There are no independent appeal mechanisms, and the commission is exempt from giving any information about individual complaints. This includes to the joint parliamentary committee set up to monitor and review its function.

Although the act specifies that gross negligence of the type that occurred in Chelmsford "must" be investigated, the commissioner has decided that all this meant was that they had only a monitoring role.

There has been no reform. The situation is worse now than it was before.

`Insane' for profit

You maybe aware of the abuses in private psychiatric hospitals, owned by National Medical Enterprises, NME, in the USA. Perfectly sane adults and children were kidnapped by bounty hunters for the hospital and were locked up against their will for profit. When their medical insurance ran out, they were "cured" and discharged. NME operates private hospitals in Sydney, although I am not aware if they run psychiatric hospitals.

Dr Charles Arnold appeared on the ABC Four Corners telecast saying that the NME tried to recruit him to certify that these people were mentally ill. It did not matter if they were sick or not; the more patients he had at the hospital, the more money he would make. Dr Arnold said that the certification of patients for private profit was a prevalent practice in the USA today.

Chelmsford had its own version of sane people being diagnosed as mentally ill for private profit. Not only were they subjected to the abuse in Chelmsford, but in many cases psychosurgery was also performed on them.

Drs Bailey and Herron had a psychologist working with them from the same office in Macquarie Street, Evan Davies. The psychiatrists would send the patient to him for psychological testing, and he would write a report based on the administration of a series of allegedly objective standardised tests.

It wouldn't matter what your problem was -- the stress of a divorce or the stress of looking after aged parents whilst holding down a demanding job, or anxiety from pressures of living or children having learning problems at school -- they all got a report from the psychologist saying they were mentally ill. In some cases, the report recommended psychosurgery.

The psychosurgery was even performed on homosexuals to "cure" them of their homosexuality.

The Chelmsford Royal Commission investigated Evan Davies' psychological testing methods. It found that his so-called personality tests had low reliability and validity, that he further compromised his testing by using the tests in subjective, idiosyncratic ways to the extent that they were virtually useless for diagnostic purposes. Eminent psychologists gave evidence that they were akin to tea leaf or tarot card readings.

Evan Davies also used a far more narrower range of normality in his scoring than was normally used by psychologists. This meant that people who fell in the normal range of behaviour were being diagnosed as abnormal, and this would lead to more drastic treatments such as deep sleep or psychosurgery.

Wide open system

During the royal commission investigation, Evan Davies applied to be registered under the Psychological Registration Act. Sixteen days before the royal commissioner brought down his report, Evan Davies got registered. Now the Psychological Registration Board claims that because these things took place before he was registered, it can't do anything about him.

We lodged a complaint with the NSW ombudsman. In July of 1995 Irene Moss published her report into the Psychological Registration Board. She found that the board was completely incompetent and has no understanding of its duty to protect the public. She recommended sweeping changes. That is eight months ago, and nothing else has happened.

The system is wide open for abuse by anyone who wants to set up a private psychiatric hospital. None of the doctors or bureaucrats involved in the Chelmsford private hospital scam were ever brought to justice.

The only person to face disciplinary charges was the Chelmsford Victims Action Group barrister, Ken Crispen QC, over his attack on the head of the Health Department, who had approved Dr Bailey's treatment. Fortunately, after a three-day hearing, they tossed the complaints out.

The regulation system is a joke. There is no legal aid to take on civil cases for damages or to set precedents that will protect victims.

[On June 6, the Supreme Court dismissed Barry Hart's appeal, with costs awarded against him. He is considering a challenge in the High Court.]