HC Deb 22 October 1953 vol 518 cc282-7W
72. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the recent removal by his Department from Holly-moor Mental Hospital of a 14-year-old girl.

73. Mr. Lindsay

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the public disquiet in regard to the Shropshire girl who was detained in the Hollymoor Mental Hospital; and whether he will make a statement.

76. Mr. Usborne

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement in regard to the 14-year-old girl who was recently removed from Hollymoor Mental Hospital to the Shaw Classifying School at Warrington; and whether he will institute an inquiry into this matter.

104. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will arrange a public or private inquiry into the case of the 14-year-old-girl recently detained for 11 months in the Hollymoor Mental Hospital, Birmingham.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

1. The girl, born 13th July, 1939, appeared before the Church Stretton (Shropshire) juvenile court on 25th September, 1952, as being in need of care or protection, and was ordered to be sent to an approved school. The order authorised her detention in an approved school until 24th September, 1955.

2. The court had information (a) that the girl had been before the court three times for stealing, and had been put on probation, (b) that her ability and educational attainment were below average, (c) that seven men had been committed for trial at assizes in September, 1952, on charges in connection with her, and (d) that the parents had been warned from time to time by probation officers about the family's association with one of these men, who had been a frequent visitor to their house since 1947 or 1948.

3. On 24th October, 1952, after two outbursts of violent and hysterical behaviour in the remand home where she was awaiting a vacancy in an approved school, she was removed to Hollymoor Mental Hospital on an urgency order (the certificate for which was signed by a consultant psychiatrist of the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board) under the Lunacy Act, 1890. Before the expiry of the urgency order at the end of seven days, the hospital authorities obtained the father's written consent as required by law to the girl's residence in the hospital as a voluntary patient. The Home Office was not concerned in these arrangements, and learned of them later from the Shropshire County Council, who said that the consultant psychiatrist would submit a report to the Home Office.

4. On 14th January, 1953, the consultant psychiatrist of the Regional Hospital Board wrote to the Home Office reporting that the girl was much more settled and appeared to have found an environment which suited her, but that she showed an impaired reasoning power and a distortion of reality, and that there was a strong schizoid element. After suggesting that the child's position should be re-assessed by a Home Office psychiatrist, the consultant psychiatrist expressed the view that the girl was unfit to be sent to an ordinary approved school or to be sent home to an environment which would be detrimental to her; and that she could very well remain at Hollymoor Hospital, where she was receiving no schooling, provided that she were given regular psychiatric treatment as an out-patient in the children's department of another Birmingham hospital. The consultant psychiatrist thought that the girl would prefer this, and that a child of her calibre and with her past experience would obtain little benefit from schooling.

The Home Office accepted the consultant psychiatrist's view about the girl's remaining in the hospital, and accordingly suggested to the Shropshire County Council (the local authority from whose area the girl came) that the approved school order should be discharged, the girl remaining a voluntary patient in the hospital. The county council replied on 25th February suggesting that consideration should be given to the possibility of arranging for the girl to be committed to the care of the hospital authorities as a fit person, and agreeing that the approved school order might be discharged.

5. While the County Council's suggestion was under consideration, the acting medical superintendent of the hospital wrote on 11th March, 1953, seeking Home Office advice and saying (a) that the girl had not been considered certifiable on the expiry of the urgency order made in October, 1952, (b) that, while she had shown no grossly psychotic behaviour disorder since her admission to the hospital, her symptoms and history were suggestive of a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and (c) that, while he did not regard her as a suitable case for indefinite retention in Hollymoor Hospital, he did not consider it advisable for her to be sent straight to an ordinary approved school. In view of this, the suggestion made by the Shropshire County Council was not pursued, but arrangements were made for a senior medical inspector of the Home Office Children's Department to visit the girl at Hollymoor Hospital and discuss her case with the hospital medical authorities.

6. The senior medical inspector, on visiting the hospital on 8th April, learned that medical opinion at the hospital considered the girl to be certifiable as mentally defective. In the light of this opinion (reached after several months' experience and observation of the girl in the hospital), the Home Office invited the Shropshire County Council to present a petition to the judicial authority for the girl's certification under Section 5 of the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913. The county council agreed, and the medical superintendent of the hospital expressed his willingness to retain the girl at Hollymoor until a petition could be presented. Under this procedure, the question of the girl's certification would have fallen to be decided by the judicial authority (before whom the girl's parents would have been entitled to appear), when a vacancy in a suitable institution was in prospect. The Birmingham Regional Hospital Board endeavoured, from this time on, to find a vacancy in a suitable institution.

7. On 29th August, 1953, the Shropshire County Committee of Trades Councils wrote to the Home Office saying (a) that the girl's father had approached them, (b) that the Secretary of the Committee had visited the girl in hospital on 24th August and was "quite satisfied, in conjunction with other competent hospital authority that the girl is not insane," (c) that the case fell between an approved school and a mental hospital, (d) that the Committee did not recommend that the girl should be returned to her parents, and (e) that the Home Office should arrange for the girl's removal from the hospital as a matter of urgency.

8. On 1st September, 1953, the chairman of the Hollymoor Hospital Management Committee wrote to the Home Office saying (a) that, in his view, the girl was not suitable for either a mental hospital or a mental deficiency institution, (b) that the question of suitable accommodation in this case was a difficult one, (c) that lengthy absence from full-time education would impair the girl's chances of recovery, (d) that the Hospital Management Committee and the Regional Hospital Board had been trying without success to find a vacancy for the girl in an institution for mental defectives, and (e) that he would appreciate anything the Home Office could do to expedite the patient's transfer to more suitable surroundings. This was the first communication received from the Hospital Management Committee about the girl.

9. The Home Office ascertained from the medical superintendent of the hospital that he still considered that the girl should be certified under the Mental Deficiency Acts. On 18th September, the Hospital Management Committee addressed a further request to the Home Office to remove the girl as quickly as possible, as in their opinion she was not suitable for residence in a mental hospital or for certification under the Mental Deficiency Acts.

10. In view of these conflicting opinions, and the Management Committee's requests in September for the early removal of the girl, and having regard to the difficulty of finding a place in a suitable institution for mental defectives, it was decided on 21st September by the Home Office, in consultation with the Ministry of Health, that the girl should be removed to a classifying approved school for observation and assessment. It was realised that she might still be found unsuitable for approved school training, and that the question of her certification under the Mental Deficiency Acts might arise again.

11. Arrangements were made accordingly for the girl to go to the Shaw Classifying School, near Warrington (one of two approved schools of the kind for girls, the other being in London), on 28th September. This date, a Monday, was selected to give the parents opportunity to visit her in Hollymoor Hospital at the week-end. It was learned subsequently that the girl's father had given the hospital authorities the requisite 72 hours' notice to withdraw his daughter, as a voluntary patient, from the hospital, and that he intended to take her home on 26th September.

Had the girl been taken home by her parents, it would have been necessary to remove her from her home in pursuance of the approved school order. In view of the disturbance which this would have involved for the child, and having regard to her history and the circumstances in which the court had ordered her removal from home, the Home Office considered that her return home before going to the Shaw School would not be in her interests, and consequently arranged for her to go to the Shaw School on 25th September.

At the request of the Home Office, the Church Stretton juvenile court took the purely formal step, on 24th September, of substituting in the approved school order the name of the Shaw School for that of the school which had been specified in the order. This step was necessary only because the girl was not being sent to the school named originally in the order. The parents' consent to the insertion of the name of a new school was not necessary. They were informed, however, by the police that this application was being made, and I regret that the notice given to them was not sufficient to enable them to attend the court had they so desired.

12. The action taken in this case has been criticised on the ground that there was undue delay in removing the girl from Hollymoor Hospital. The girl's retention in the hospital was due initially to the difficulty of deciding how best to provide for her, and, from the middle of May, 1953, to the inability of the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board to find a place for her in a suitable institution. It is unfortunately the case that there is a great shortage of vacancies in such institutions.

The Home Office acted throughout with the girl's best interest in view, and the decision to remove her, in pursuance of the court order, to an approved school (despite the doubts about her suitability for approved school training) was not taken until it became clear that her continued retention in the hospital was not favoured by the Hospital Management Committee, who, in September, 1953, requested her removal. She was not allowed to return home, since the court had decided by the making of an approved school order that, in her own interests, she should be removed from her home environment, and that order was still in operation. There is no foundation for the suggestion that the girl's removal to an approved school in pursuance of an order of the court infringed the rights of the parents, and it was the order itself which restricted the girl's liberty.

13. The unavoidable delay in finally dealing with this girl is a source of great regret both to myself and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, but we are both satisfied that, notwithstanding the unfortunate differences of opinion between the lay members of the Hospital Management Committee and the medical authorities as to the girl's mental condition and as to the proper method of dealing with her, all the parties concerned acted throughout in what they believed to be the girl's best interests.

14. This case illustrates the necessity for an inquiry into the methods of certification of patients suffering from mental troubles on the lines of the Royal Commission which the Prime Minister announced today is about to be set up.