NHS Zombie Ward

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Actress Celia Imrie was 14 when she was treated by Sargant on Ward 5 and given huge doses of drugs and ECT
 
‘He came across as highly respectable and authoritative,’ says Hilary. ‘But most patients in Ward 5 were just young girls who had problems with their families. It was barbaric.’
 
A leading psychiatric expert, Professor Malcolm Lader of King’s College, London, recalls how, as a junior doctor, Sargant showed him his sleep room several times in 1966.
 
‘To be frank, I was horrified by what I saw,’ he says.
 
‘The women were really cramped together. It was dark. It was like twilight. There was a terrible smell of unwashed bodies.
 
‘It was a fraught procedure to be sedated for that amount of time. Most importantly, there was no evidence that narcosis had any effect.
 
‘He was doling out drugs in large doses that were way above the recommended maximum dose. I resolved never to send anyone there.’
Professor Lader also sheds light on why no one stopped Sargant.
 
‘He was an over-powering, imperious figure. He spoke to me as if I must approve and I’m afraid I was too junior and too cowardly to say I thought the whole thing needed properly investigating.
 
‘They wouldn’t get away with it now because the law has changed. You have to show there is some logic and rationale to what you are doing.
 
‘But back then, he would not brook any opposition. He built up an empire filled with his acolytes.’
 
There were also rumours, says Professor Lader, that Sargant was untouchable because he was supported by British intelligence or the CIA. He was a frequent traveller to the U.S. and wrote in his autobiography of being entertained at the White House during one of his trips.
 
‘He was interested in brainwashing and so was the CIA. He may have been protected by his contacts.’
 
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Ward 5 and Sargant’s sleep room closed when he retired in 1973 — the same year the CIA officially ended its top-secret mind-control experiments, codenamed Project MKUltra.
 
Whatever the truth, the young women from troubled families made perfect patients for Sargant’s experiments. F. R Tallis, who researched Sargant for his novel, says: ‘He cherry-picked them. They were easy targets — alienated from their families and unable to challenge his authority.’
 
'There was no way back to my old life. I am angry about what I feel I missed out on. I've lost chunks of my memory'
 
Stephanie Simons, a 78-year-old Sussex artist, visited Sargant’s private rooms in London’s Harley Street in 1967 suffering from depression.
 
She sheds a more sinister light on the bias towards women, recalling how he asked her to strip to the waist so he could examine her before administering anti-depressants.
 
‘He didn’t ask me to get dressed again,’ she says. ‘He told me to sit in a chair, naked to the waist, and talked to me for nearly an hour like that.
 
‘He was stern and professional, so I didn’t dare say anything.’

Today, Sargant’s reputation as a serious psychiatrist is in tatters, but there is still interest in his mind-control books.
The secrecy surrounding Dr Sargant’s work has even led to claims he was being bankrolled by British intelligence and the CIA. He certainly had links to the military in World War II, working at Porton Down, the Ministry of Defence biological and chemical weapons research base.
 
But long before he died in 1988, Sargant destroyed all his records, which might have shed light on his sinister treatments.
 
'It was impossible to rebel because you were constantly drugged. It was an unreal world and I was frightened and disorientated'
 
According to Hilary Jameson, who arrived at the Royal Waterloo in 1970, being admitted to Ward 5 was ‘like falling into the jaws of hell’.
 
As a 17-year-old A-level student in Oxford, she stopped eating after her parents’ divorce, though she insists she was far from anorexic.
 
‘People were talking about this marvellous man in London who could work miracles,’ says the 61-year-old, now a psychotherapist.
 
‘He was stern, a tall, cold man with very dark eyes. He didn’t speak to me. He just told my mother that if I wasn’t admitted then I’d die.’
 
Within half an hour of arriving, Hilary was injected with largactil - a powerful anti-psychotic drug.

‘It was impossible to rebel because you were constantly drugged,’ she says. ‘It was an unreal world and I was frightened and disorientated.’
 
Forced to eat huge amounts of carbohydrates so that she put on weight, Hilary had an ever-present threat of ‘narcosis’ hanging over her if she did not show signs of improvement.
 
‘We used to see the women in the sleep room being taken to the bathroom or to be fed and they were like ghosts. It made you feel very worried. I couldn’t make sense of what was going on around us.’
 
Hilary was forced to undergo ECT and displayed to medical students by Sargant as he taught them ‘how to deal with anorexic girls’.
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