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Ministers trash memory of David 'Rocky' Bennett as they chose 'business as usual' for mental institutions

Exclusive by Matilda MacAttram

MENTAL HEALTH experts are furious that government ministers plan to kick into touch hard-hitting recommendations of a public inquiry into the death of a black patient

David Bennett
David ‘Rocky’ Bennett: legacy of his death is being ditched by ministers

Health minister Rosie Winterton is due to make a written statement to the House of Commons tomorrow (Thursday) morning on government mental health policies. She is expected to sideline the findings of the David ‘Rocky Bennett inquiry report.

A leaked official report obtained by Blink shows most of the Bennett findings have been ignored, such as restraint procedures and dealing with racism in the mental health system.

The public inquiry was launched following a five year campaign by the family of talented drummer and father of two Rocky Bennett, 38, who died of asphyxiation at a mental health unit in Norwich in October 1998 after being restrained by staff.

The inquiry, chaired by former high court judge Sir John Blofeld and which reported in February, reached damning conclusions over institutional racism and restraint. But campaigners have been angered by health ministers refusal to admit that the NHS is institutionally racist or embrace the Bennett findings.


Department of Health (DoH) figures show black people are over five times more likely to be detained in high security units, six times more likely to be sectioned, and significantly over-medicated compared to white patients.

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A leaked official mental health report seen by Blink, called ‘Race Equality in Mental Health: An Action Plan to Engage Communities and Improve Services’, will form the bedrock of mental health government policy, shows that the legacy of Rocky Bennett has been cast aside.

  It sends out a clear message that damaging practices of misdiagnosis, over medication and restraint can continue in mental health wards up and down the country without any consequences
Professor Sashi Sashidarand

The report, written by the National Institute for Mental Health in England, an agency of DoH, sidesteps all 22 Bennett recommendations, and has provoked outrage amongst health care campaigners and community leaders.

Mental health expert Professor Sashi Sashidarand said: “It sends out a clear message that damaging practices of misdiagnosis, over medication and restraint can continue in mental health wards up and down the country with out any consequences.”

Dr Richard Stone sat on the panel of the Bennett Inquiry, added: “I’m not in the least bit surprised at the government’s response after they refused to accept the recommendation on restraint.


“Two people have already died in psychiatric care after being restrained since the report was published. If there was any political will at all recommendations on restraint would have been immediately accepted. I am very concerned.”

Rosie Winterton
Rosie Winterton: delivering hammerblow to Bennett report

“This move will mean that black people will remain over-represented within mental health institutions and continue to be misdiagnosed, continue to remain at the harsher end of psychiatry as there is no where in this document that looks at changing the practices of professionals that are responsible for patient care.”

Former service user Robert Jones, Social Care & Inclusion Manager at Camden & Islington Mental Health Social Care Trust agreed saying: “The Bennett Report was a good opportunity to change. We’ve got a lot to learn from these tragedies. It is a shame that the report does not take on board the Bennett Inquiry recommendations.”

“This report demonstrates that lip service is being paid to fact that the service is institutionally racist while making no real attempt to address this age old problem,” Dr Mary Tilky, Chair of the Federation of Irish Societies said.

“The report put the onus on service users engaging with the system neglecting the fact that they are not willing to engage given the dire history of service provision. I would have hoped that the report would have recognised the problems that exist for mental health service users.”

38 year-old psychiatric patient Rocky Bennett died in October 1998 at a Norwich secure unit after being restrained. He was then held face down for 25 minutes by as many as five nurses, and his family were not informed of his death until two days later.

Bennett was restrained after becoming angry at being moved off the ward by staff following an altercation in which Bennett was racially abused by a white patient. An inquest returned a verdict of 'Accidental Death aggravated by Neglect' in May 2001.

Lee Jasper Chair of the African Caribbean Mental Health Commission said: “If the Government refuses to include the bulk of the recommendations included in the Bennett Report then the black community will be outraged. It is beyond comprehension that they would do this. The report seems to have become a victim of the the very issue it sought to expose – institutioinal racism.”

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pdf Race Equality Foundation briefing: Improving the quality of palliative care

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pdf BME Needs Assessment: Diabetes and Hypertension

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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Cancer Black Care

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