Aftermath of the scandal

Harry Bailey’s radical psychiatric techniques had ramifications at a plethora of levels—from devastating patients’ lives as well as his, to tainting the reputation of psychiatry and the therapies they had to offer. Although the scandal occurred in the 1970s, the effects of deep sleep therapy are still evident today in a number of ex-patients of Chelmsford Private Hospital who are still fighting to gain compensation for the ordeal they experienced almost 50 years ago.


From 1963 to 1979, deep sleep therapy (DST) was directly connected to 27 deaths in total, with an additional 24 reports of patients committing suicide in the same year they received the treatment (Wilson, 2003). The age range of those who died spanned from 20 to 40 years, and affected individuals who live to this day remain to be haunted by their upsetting experiences at Chelmsford (Wilson, 2003).

Following the scandal, in 1983, an ex-patient at the hospital created a group through which individuals could express their demand for an open inquiry to be made into the happenings of Chelmsford Private Hospital. This group, now named ‘Chelmsford Victims’ Action Group’ or ‘CVAG,’ managed to achieve its goal 5 years later when the Chelmsford Royal Commission came into play (Wilson, 2003).  The CVAG has its own website (, which functions to educate the public about the alleged atrocities that occurred within the walls of Chelmsford Private Hospital, as well as highlight the lack of support they have received from the government. There is a vitriolic tone pervading the entire website, and through their bleak descriptions of the scandal, it is clear that the treatment offered by the doctors at Chelmsford hospital did not end well. Jim Lawler, a man who was directed to a Chelmsford doctor for suffering a ‘pain behind his eyes’ was interviewed on the Willesee TV show on 12 February 1985. An excerpt of this interview is published on the group’s website and is presented below:

LAWLER: When I came home from the hospital my son said to his mother, Mum, what’s happened with this operation? He said, something went wrong with this. Dad is not the father that I used to know. And that’s from a kid who is deaf.

INTERVIEWER: Is it possible to explain how you feel now?

LAWLER: Resentful, and bitter. Because what’s been done to me shouldn’t be done to a dog.

Through this dialogue, the CVAG has emphasised the shattering after-effects of receiving treatment in the hands of Harry Bailey.

Above is a dramatic graphic depicted on the homepage of the CVAG website.


Harry Bailey, the director at Chelmsford Private Hospital, was the first figure scrutinised by the media and law once his precarious use of deep sleep therapy was disclosed to the public. His name was tainted by the numerous deaths his treatments were linked with, and the public uproar in response to his medical practice seemed to take a toll on his mental health. According to a 1991  British Medical Journal publication, “Dr Bailey showed signs of delusional behaviour such as referring to himself as a Martian. Bailey also had sexual relations with his patients, one of whom committed suicide, leaving her estate to him. Soon after this Bailey had himself admitted for deep sleep therapy (Swan, 1991).” The fact that Bailey chose to undergo DST himself suggests that he genuinely believed that this treatment held promise. Hence, we can sympathise with him to an extent as he may not have held cruel intentions for his patients at all—perhaps he was another pioneer of medicine driven to absolve individuals from their mental problems.

In saying all that, we cannot turn a blind eye to the horrific consequences of Dr Bailey’s actions—regardless of his intentionsHarry Bailey committed suicide in 1985, fearful of the future of psychiatry as his beloved deep sleep therapy was condemned by the government (John, 1993). Following a 288 day hearing that began in October 1988, the royal commission declared that “deep sleep therapy was an extremely dangerous treatment and was carried out with inadequate facilities, staff, and equipment to deal with the risks. It was therapeutically ineffective (John, 1993).” 100 patients attested Dr Herron, Dr Gardiner, and Dr Gill’s (Dr Bailey’s colleagues) immoral misconduct (John, 1993), forcing the doctors to de-register (Haupt & O’Neill, 1988).


Following the Aftermath of the Chelmsford scandal, severe reforms were needed with Psychiatry. The nature of Chelmsford as a private hospital meant that it did not come under the scrutiny of the public health system. Regulation of Chelmsford was thus slack, and there was no proper code of ethics within psychiatry at this time (Wilson, 2003). Slow progress took place after the scandal of Chelmsford had been exposed, there was reconstruction of a new complaints unit within the department of health services, which allowed members of the public a more direct and independent place to lodge their concerns (Swan, 1991). This was something that was severely missing in the heyday of Chelmsford as many patients had to use the media as a public forum to push for their voice to be heard. A code of ethics for psychiatry was implemented by the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in 1992 (Wilson, 2003) and in 2010 medical professionals became lawfully required to report other medical professionals who practiced their medicine outside the normal accepted forms (Walton, 2013).

Changes to the laws and regulations were not implemented without resistance and fear from psychiatry circles. Many professionals were afraid that rules implemented in the aftermath of Chelmsford may be over reactive and strangle the profession, taking away psychiatrists ability to practice new and ‘innovative’ techniques (Boettcher, 1998).

The reputation of Psychiatry as a result of the Chelmsford scandal and the effect the scandal has on present society can be argued to be small. Whilst some people are slightly weary of psychosurgery techniques such as Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and its association with deep sleep therapy (Boettcher, 1998), Most of the general public are unaware of the psychiatry’s shady past. Wilson (2003) suggests that mental health issues, including the scandal of Chelmsford are easily forgotten or hushed out of the spotlight from societies focus.