Inquiry call over doctor's work at Broadmoor: Labour is demanding the suspension of a psychiatrist who is alleged to have breached mental health regulations. Sharon Kingman reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LABOUR HAS demanded a public inquiry into allegations that a consultant psychiatrist at Broadmoor special hospital in Berkshire consistently breached mental health legislation designed to protect patients' rights.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said the inquiry should also examine the role of the Department of Health in protecting the psychiatrist, Dr Kypros Loucas, and further allegations about his practices to be made in Cutting Edge, to be broadcast tonight on Channel 4.

The Independent on Sunday disclosed yesterday that, since being asked to retire early from Broadmoor, Dr Loucas has worked at Horton Hospital in Surrey, an NHS psychiatric hospital, and is working part-time at Wormwood Scrubs jail in west London.

Mr Blunkett said Dr Loucas should be suspended from his present post until the inquiry was completed. The protection given to Dr Loucas by Broadmoor's management and Department of Health officials and ministers, particularly Lord Skelmersdale, a former junior health minister, should be investigated, he said. The Independent has discovered that Dr Loucas was reported to the Department of Health and Social Security for giving patients in Broadmoor electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) without anaesthetic or muscle relaxant.

This report was made in 1979, six years before the Mental Health Act Commission - the watchdog body set up to oversee the working of the 1983 Mental Health Act - first started complaining to the Department of Health and Social Security about Dr Loucas, who did not retire from Broadmoor until 1989. He sometimes failed to seek patients' consent for treatment when the Act stipulated that he should have.

Mr Blunkett said: 'Following on from the exposes of the mistreatment of psychiatric patients at Ashworth and Rampton hospitals, these latest revelations are extremely disturbing.'

He said it was scandalous that Dr Loucas, 65, had survived so long at Broadmoor without investigation and is still employed within a government service, 'when serious doubts about his activities were well known to senior civil servants and government ministers for several years'.

Colm Byrne, a student nurse who witnessed Dr Loucas giving ECT without anaesthetic or muscle relaxant at Broadmoor in 1979, will describe what he saw on tonight's programme. It will also document the unpleasant withdrawal effects suffered by one of Dr Loucas's patients when Dr Loucas abruptly withdrew his medication, and the stories of patients who grew breasts after he gave them hormone treatments to curb their sexual urges.

ECT involves placing electrodes on the patient's temples and delivering an electric shock through the brain. It is normally given to seriously depressed people for whom no other treatment is effective. Each year, about 130,000 people have ECT. The electric shock causes muscles throughout the body to go into spasm. To prevent this, it has been usual since about 1960 to give patients a muscle relaxant before ECT. A general anaesthetic is also normally given so that the patient is unconscious during the convulsion and knows nothing of it.

Without muscle relaxant, the muscles can contract so strongly that the patient suffers crush fractures of the spine, dislocated hip and shoulder joints and other fractures. ECT given without muscle relaxant or anaesthetic is known as 'unmodified ECT'.

Tim Yeo, a junior health minister, said yesterday: 'We are confident that present arrangements allow for doubts about the performance of an individual clinician to be examined thoroughly. Nevertheless, when we have seen the programme, if we feel it necessary to look at our procedures again, we shall do so.'

Dr Loucas has refused to comment.

(Photograph omitted)