Mentally ill people kill 32 in a year, study finds: New doubt cast on community care policy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PSYCHIATRIC patients discharged from hospitals under the care in the community programme have been involved in 32 killings and 107 have committed suicide in the past 12 months, according to a confidential inquiry.

The findings of the Royal College of Psychiatrists' inquiry, set up by the Government to investigate violent incidents by former mental patients, will add to the controversy over the Government's policy after highly publicised incidents in which discharged patients have harmed themselves or others.

New measures to improve supervision of seriously mentally ill patients were announced on Thursday by Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, but some critics doubt whether they would have prevented some of the tragedies.

The inquiry was announced in October 1991 after an 11-year-old girl was stabbed to death in a Doncaster shopping precinct by a psychiatric patient who had been discharged two days earlier.

The patient, Carol Ann Barratt, had been admitted to the hospital just two weeks earlier after she tried to kill another girl in the same place. The doctor who discharged her was said to have made a 'serious error of clinical judgement'.

The inquiry's director, Dr William Boyd, a consultant psychiatrist, began gathering data on the killings in July last year and on suicides earlier this year.

The Home Office has sent him 60 cases of killings involving former psychiatric patients but only 32 are included, the inquiry being confined to cases involving patients within the psychiatric services up to 12 months before the killing. Some cases involve more than one victim.

Dr Boyd, who was based at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital before he retired, has sent questionnaires on killings and suicides to consultants throughout Britain. He is attempting to see if there are any common threads or if the cases could have been better managed so that the deaths could have been averted. The report's conclusions are expected by 1995.

Dr Boyd said: 'With the changes towards community care there were inevitably voices raised about the increased likelihood of people committing suicide or homicide in the community. Whether or not it is true, there was concern. Our research will help to see if this has


Doctors' dilemma, page 3