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Bad Bill bites the dust

by Matilda MacAttram

MP'S CONCERNS over the impact of the governments' Mental Health Bill on Black patients was a major factor in ministers ditching the proposals.

Chinyere Inyama
Chinyere Inyama speaking to a 1990 Trust-organised gathering of parliamentarians and Black mental health experts last month.

The Government has been forced to climb down over the hugely unpopular 2004 Mental Health Bill, Health Minister Rosie Winterton, announced yesterday.

In a briefing Ms Winterton confirmed there are now plans to introduce a ‘shorter, streamlined Bill’ effectively amending the Mental Health Act 1983.

Leading Black-led human rights group The 1990 Trust has welcomed the decision which follows intensive campaigning by health and community campaigners who condemned by Bill as ‘discriminatory and unworkable’.

Mental health expert professor Sashi Sashidharan told Blink: ‘This is good news and it is all down to The 1990 Trust’s campaigning.'


'It was a bad Bill and it would have made for bad practice and increased the discrimination Black people face when using services.

Professor Suman Fernando
Professor Suman Fernando: bad Bill and great victory.

'The way the Bill was drafted showed a lack of understanding that people at the highest levels of the Department of Health have on mental health.

'This is a great victory for people who have been fighting against this.'

Co-chair of the National BME Mental Health Network Marcel Vige agreed: ‘I am very pleased that concerns raised by the Network and Mental Health Alliance have been listened to and the Bill has been dropped.

'But I would like to see clear principles on Race Equality the face of the new Bill.’ Concerns about the 2004 Bill’s impact on Black communities played a major part in bringing down the Bill.


Government figures currently show that African-Caribbean people make up 16% of people in high security psychiatric settings and 30% in medium risk settings. This despite African-Caribbean people constituting less than 3% of the national population.

 - quote - The last straw was the persistent lobbying around the race equality impact of the Bill  - unquote -
Chinyere Inyama

‘The last straw for this was the persistent lobbying around the Race Equality Impact Assessment of the Bill,’ mental health lawyer Chinyere Inyama told Blink.

‘When the Mental Health Alliance and national charities like The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health and Rethink came on board with this it made a difference.

'But the fight is not over and what they wanted to make law in the draft Bill could still be included in a rewrite of the 1983 Act.’

Health experts and community campaigners have been unified in their opposition to the 2004 Bill from the outset and condemned it as racist and discriminatory .

This latest development is seen in many quarters embarrassing climb down and comes at a time when Government is working is a much reduced majority.

The health minister’s announcement has stated that nine amendments will be made to the 1983 Act in order to bring it in line the legal requirements of the Human Rights Act.

Dr Kwame McKenzie said: 'The problem is that the Department have not included race as an areas that needs to be addressed even though we have seen huge disparities in the sectioning of Black people under the 1983 Act. There seem to be no commitment from leadership to address this.’

Barrister David Netia added: 'It is important that to monitor the Governments next steps as the battle by no means over. It is clear from provisions within the 2004 Bill that people drafting the Bill do not fully understand the needs of people suffering from mental illness.’

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