Harry Bailey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named Harry Bailey, see Harry Bailey (disambiguation).

Harry Richard Bailey (1922 – 8 September 1985) was a controversial Australian psychiatrist. He bore the primary responsibility for treatment of mental patients via deep sleep therapy, and other methods, at a Sydney mental hospital. He has been linked with the deaths of a total of 85 patients.[1] He committed suicide before he could be punished.


Whereas most of his compatriots who specialised in psychiatry sought out their advanced further training in Britain, Bailey worked in Louisiana with Robert Heath of Tulane University. He also studied electroconvulsive therapy under Cedric Howell Swanton back in Australia. During the late 1950s Bailey emerged as one of the most high-profile figures in Australia's mental health professions, being photographed with leading politicians such as New South Wales Premier Joseph Cahill.

Deep sleep therapy (DST)[edit]

Between 1962 and 1979, Bailey was chief psychiatrist at Chelmsford Private Hospital in Sydney's northwest. Under his care, 26 Chelmsford patients died,[2] with only perfunctory investigation by authorities. The last of these deaths, that of Miriam Podio, a telecommunications company employee hospitalised for severe depression, occurred in the early hours of August 12, 1977.[3]

DST was Bailey's invention, a cocktail of barbiturates to put patients into a coma lasting up to 39 days, while also administering electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Bailey likened the treatment to switching off a television; his self-developed theory was that the brain, by shutting down for an extended period, would "unlearn" habits that led to depression, addiction and other psychiatric conditions. Bailey claimed to have learnt DST from psychiatrists in Britain and Europe, though it was later found that only a mild variant was used there, sedating traumatised ex-soldiers for a few hours at a time, not the median 14 days under which Bailey and his colleague Dr John Herron subjected their 1127 DST patients at Chelmsford between 1963 and 1979.[3]

Chelmsford investigation[edit]

The resultant scandal broke in the early 1980s, following two 60 Minutes programs in 1980 and 1982, and closed down Chelmsford entirely. In 1985, the "legal and medical investigative machinery finally co-ordinated their actions and Bailey was facing committal proceedings over the death of Miriam Podio in 1977".[3] The Chelmsford Royal Commission from 1988 to 1990, headed by Justice John Slattery of the New South Wales Supreme Court, produced findings concerning Chelmsford's treatment program that ran to twelve volumes. Bailey committed suicide by ingesting barbiturates. He left a note which read: "Let it be known that the Scientologists and the forces of madness have won";[4] the controversial Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Scientology-founded organisation, had been active in publicizing the Chelmsford scandal.


  1. ^ Medical Murder, Robert M. Kaplan
  2. ^ When power came before patients. Sydney Morning Herald 11 October 1991.
  3. ^ a b c Malcolm Knox (April 13, 2013). "The big sleep". The Age. 
  4. ^ Chandler, Jo; MacDonald, Jacqui (22 April 1991). "The battle to control the mind". The Melbourne Age. Retrieved 23 April 2012.