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Volume 644: debated on Monday 10 July 1961

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Mental Patients (Reclassification)


asked the Minister of Health how many patients, up to the latest convenient date, have, under Schedule VI of the new Act, been reclassified as informal patients; and how many of these have subsequently been discharged as patients.

Comprehensive statistics will only be available from the end of the six months transitional period, but a small sample relating to subnormal patients suggests that rather more than half the patients detained on 1st November last were made informal during the period and that about 1 in 20 of these had left hospital by the end of it.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that information. Can he confirm that under the Mental Health Act no patient who is compulsorily detained needs to be reclassified as informal for discharge if there is the slightest risk that there will be a danger to themselves or to someone else? Does he not agree that if some reasonable risks were not taken large numbers of people leading useful lives in the community would be locked up in mental hospitals and possibly there would be more mental hospitals?

In principle, the reclassification required by the Sixth Schedule to the Mental Health Act was subject to the requirements both of the patient and of the public with regard to security, among other considerations.

Ronald Derek Sowle


asked the Minister of Health if he will now make a statement on the result of his inquiries into the reclassification of Ronald Derek Sowle.


asked the Minister of Health if he will now make a statement on his investigation into the case of Ronald Derek Sowle.

The South Western Regional Hospital Board is conducting an inquiry. I must await its report.

May I ask how long the Minister thinks it will be before the report is complete because, as he knows, there is a great deal of public interest in view of what was said by the judge?

It does not depend on me, but obviously it is desirable that the report should be available as soon as practicable.

When the Minister receives the report of the regional board will he give an undertaking that the whole of it will be made public?


asked the Minister of Health, in view of the evidence given in the Sowle case, whether he is satisfied that the medical staff available to do the work of reclassification of patients required under the provisions of the Mental Health Act, 1959, is adequate to the requirements of the south-west region; and if he will make a statement.

I wonder whether the Minister is aware of the inference of my Question? I am not so much concerned with the speed of the reclassification but whether there is an adequate staff to give sufficient time for a thorough examination of these patients to arrive at a clear decision whether they are fit to be restored to liberty in the interests of the general public.

There was a statutory requirement that this review should be completed by the end of April. I think I ought not to answer the remainder of the hon. Member's supplementary question in view of the Answer I have just given.

Could it not be made clear to the House by the right hon. Gentleman that this man, far from committing the crime immediately on his release as has been suggested, had been travelling across Bristol for many weeks going to and from a rehabilitation centre by public transport and had city parole for at least a year? Does not the Minister think that these facts should be made known in this case?

I think it right that the facts should be made known as a whole as a result of the inquiry which is taking place, at any rate as far as I am concerned.

Crimes Of Violence (Mental Patients)


asked the Minister of Health if he will now make a statement on his inquiries into crimes of violence committed by mental patients.

No inquiries are in progress apart from that to which my reply to the hon. Members for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) and Brixton (Mr. Lipton) refers.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that unfortunately this is not the only case? There has been one in my constituency. Does he not agree that the last thing we want to do is to put the clock back in regard to the treatment of mental patients, in which progress has been made? Does he not agree on that account that we must carry public opinion with us in this respect and give reassurance in regard to the very small number of mental cases with potentialities for violence? Will he look into each of these cases in detail with that in view?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's objects. I am considering with the Home Secretary whether there is any way of getting information which would bear on this matter.