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Mental health bill “fundamentally flawed”

by Matilda MacAttram

BLACK MENTAL health experts said the government&#39s new Mental Health Bill needed major changes to avoid discriminating against ethnic minorities.

David &#39Rocky&#39 Bennett
David &#39Rocky&#39 Bennett: died in mental centre

Labour included the bill in a packed legislative package announced in the Queens Speech.

The draft Mental Health Bill, which introduced in the last parliament before the election, was widely criticised by experts and politicians.

Today mental health professionals expressed hope that the new bill would be an improvement on the last effort.

The previous draft mental health bill, would make it easier to detain and medicate people suspected of a &#39mental disturbance&#39.

The bill, which failed to make it onto the statute book before the general election, was described by experts as being based on prejudice and fear rather than hope and recovery.


African-Caribbean people are six times more likely to be sectioned and are disproportionately over-medicated and detained in high security institutions.

New health secretary Patricia Hewitt
Health minister Patricia Hewitt

Critics said the government had been motivated more by responding public fears of the mentally ill, often whipped up by newspaper stories, than helping sufferers and dealing with discrimination in the system.

This week senior figures expressed hope that the new bill will respond to criticisms of the Mental Health Alliance coalition of leading organisations in the field, including Mind and Sane.

Civil servants at the Department of Health are believed to be close to finishing a race equality impact assessment on the new bill, which is expect to go before Parliament this autumn.


Karen Chouhan, chief executive of The 1990 Trust, said the thoroughness of this review will be a key test of how seriously the government takes the issue of racism in mental health.

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Campaigners have expressed concern that the public inquiry report into the death of David &#39Rocky&#39 Bennett was being kicked into the long grass.

Key recommendations such limits on restraint and medication, being sidelined. The parliamentary Scrutiny Committee report into mental health was also critical of government direction.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Kwame McKenzie told Blink: “Now that they have decided to take forward the mental health bill, we need to wait and see what parts of the scrutiny committee report they are going to take into consideration.”


McKenzie believes the government&#39s race impact assessment was a direct result of lobbying by Black-led organisations. “I think the department have heard the concerns and so are now looking at how this bill will disproportionately affect ethnic minorities and in particular African Caribbeans.”

 - quote - We have to campaign and let it be known that this bill does not work for the Black community.  - unquote -
David Neita

Melba Wilson, vice chair of the African and Caribbean Mental Health Commission, commented: “I am hoping that it takes into account  the raft of concerns that have been well documented.”

Without significant changes mental health campaigners predict the bill will get a rough ride from MP&#39s and experts.

“I can’t see how the Government can proceed without making changes”, psychiatrist and senior lecturer in mental health, Dr Suman Fernando said.

David Neita, a barrister and mental health therapist, added: “If the scrutiny committee recommendations are not taken on board, the fight has to continue.


“Even if the bill is passed in parliament it does not mean it is right. Up until the last point, we have to campaign and let our voices be heard and let it be known that this bill does not work for the Black community.”

Community Treatment Orders, which allow authorities to forcibly medicate people within their own homes, has been slated by health professionals as “nothing other than discriminatory.”

Dr Richard Stone, a member of the David &#39Rocky&#39 Bennett public inquiry panel, said: “The Community Treatment Orders undermines the professional relationship of the doctor or nurse and the patient if they have the power to enforce treatment.

“Who has the patient got to turn to if there are no professionals who are outside the system of enforcement?  I think it is very important that people in the community have professionals that they can turn to who are not involved in the enforcement of treatment.”

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pdf Independent Inquiry into the death of David Bennett

pdf Draft Mental Health Bill


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hyper GUIDE to the Mental Health Act.


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