Normansfield Hospital

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th October 1976.

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Photo of Mr David Ennals Mr David Ennals , Norwich North 12:00 am, 11th October 1976

Dr. Lawlor has been employed since 1970 as the Consultant Psychiatrist at Normansfield Hospital, a 260-bed hospital for the mentally handicapped managed by the South-West Thames Regional Health Authority and the Kingston and Richmond Area Health Authority.

The two authorities have been concerned about the situation at the hospital for some time. There is a long record of difficulties at the hospital and there have been complaints from relatives of patients, from the Community Health Council and from the Richmond upon Thames branch of the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children, both generally about standards of care in the hospital and, in one case, specifically about the attitude of Dr. Lawlor. There had also been complaints from nursing staff about Dr. Lawlor's attitude towards them. On 22nd April 1976, the Confederation of Health Service Employees, on behalf of the staff of the hospital, presented to the regional health authority a written list of complaints about Dr. Lawlor which were sent to him for his observations.

On 3rd May, Dr. Lawlor wrote to the area health authority seeking an inquiry into unexplained injuries to patients which he said had occurred during his absence. I understand that this letter was received by the area health authority on 5th May.

On the night of 4th May, virtually the entire staff of the hospital walked out saying that they would not return unless Dr. Lawlor was removed from the hospital. On 5th May the regional health authority chairman, on the advice of senior staff of the RHA and AHA, decided to suspend Dr. Lawlor on full pay pending a decision on further action. On 5th May, the Regional Administrator wrote to him telling him that he had been suspended as a result of complaints received from the nursing staff at the hospital.

On 12th May, the regional health authority decided to set up an independent inquiry under a legally qualified chairman, with the terms of reference to inquire into staff morale and patient care at Normansfield Hospital and in particular the circumstances leading to the withdrawal of labour by staff at the hospital on 5th May 1976". It also decided to continue Dr. Lawlor's suspension during the course of the inquiry. The inquiry was scheduled to open on 16th August. Unfortunately, it proved impossible to assemble all the evidence in time and the start was later postponed until 8th November, the earliest date at which the chairman would be available.

I received representations in August from the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association on behalf of Dr. Lawlor and in September from the BMA raising issues of principle relating to the circumstances of Dr. Lawlor's suspension. I decided that, regrettable as the delay in starting the inquiry was, to reinstate Dr. Lawlor would not help to deal with the situation at the hospital. However, in response to the representations from the BMA, which I met on 1st October, I took immediate action. I spoke to the RHA chairman, who agreed to recommend to the RHA an extension of the terms of reference of the inquiry in order that it should also look into the circumstances of the suspension of Dr. Lawlor. The BMA urged upon me the desirability of an inquiry into this matter under Section 70 of the National Health Service Act 1946, but I decided that to change the form of the inquiry would only cause confusion and further delay. On the terms of reference which I have proposed, I have every confidence that the RHA's inquiry, under Mr. Gerald Kidner, will deal fully and effectively with the matters concerned.

In the light of this, I very much regret the decision of the HCSA to ask its members to ban all routine work last Friday and hope that they will be willing to accept that the important thing now is to establish the facts and responsibilities in this case as quickly as possible and to improve the situation at Normansfield Hospital. Further industrial action will not help towards this.