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200 Years Ago Today 5

09 May 2015

The Inspector of Naval Hospitals, Dr John Weir, told the Committee on Madhouses that the said the medical supervision of Bethlem's 148 patients was inadequate. He said that he had found naked patients covered only with the straw that lined the floor of their cells, and others unnecessarily loaded with chains.

He added: “I am of opinion both that the medical treatment is injudicious and that uncalled-for severity is practised towards them; however requisite it may be to impose a restraint on, and to inspire maniacs with a dread of their keepers, it will appear reasonable that the mildest possible methods should be adopted for the accomplishment of those objects.”

According to Dr Weir, the medical staff would be insufficient in number even if they were to pay strict attention to the patients in their care, but this was not in fact the case. He said: “They attend at Bridewell likewise, and the physician and surgeon are in private practice, the former extensively so, and the apothecary lives at Islington; so it should seem possible that the Hospital is frequently left without any medical assistant at it, in case of emergency”.  He suggested that Bethlem needed three or four doctors, as well as a proportionate number or surgeons and other medical attendants, as was the case at other public hospitals.

He proposed that: "The various cases should be considered; and the result of the practice in each, carefully inserted in a journal to be kept for that purpose", believing that "from this, the most important practical knowledge might be communicated to the medical profession in general".

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