While the 1890 Lunacy Act turned the decision about committal from a medical into a legal one, the decision about the discharge of a patient remained with the Medical Superintendent and seems to have been a difficult one. Not only was he responsible for declaring the patient ‘recovered’ but he also had to vouch for the patient’s behaviour back in the community. Apart from the willingness to face the responsibility, the release of a patient required the Medical Superintendent to become proactive. If the Medical Superintendent wished to discharge a patient, he had to bring the case before the next monthly meeting of the Visiting Committee who then released the patient. Discharge rates for the DCLA show that the hospital was by no means a ‘dumping ground’ for unwanted relatives in the 19th century – a striking similarity to MacKenzie’s findings of the Ticehurst Asylum (MacKenzie, 1993). It is, however, little surprising that frequently family members were the main actors when it came to claiming out a relative. Existing research has shown, however, that their release depended largely on the family’s capability and willingness to accept the patient back into their community (Wright, 1997). In Devon, emotional, financial, and spatial aspects as well as the ability to supervise or control the patient seem to have influenced decisions about discharge.
A second route out of the asylum was through the relatives who had the power to claim a patient out – even against medical advice – if they declared to take over full responsibility for the patient and provide him or her with a home.
More often than not, however, patients, like G., died in the asylum. Death rates reached an all-time high between 1915 and 1919.