psychiatrist turns down OBE in protest at "deeply flawed"
mental health bill
by Adam James
eminent psychiatrist has turned down a Queen’s honour in protest
at the government’s “deeply flawed” plans to extend
compulsory powers of detention over the mentally ill.
Suman Fernando, one of the country’s leading psychiatrists
on mental health and race, was told last week by Downing Street
that he had been nominated for an OBE for his “services to
black and minority ethnic mental healthcare.”
Dr Fernando has publicly rejected the honour, accusing NHS mental
health services of being institutionally racist and fearing law
changes proposed in a mental heath bill going through parliament
would fail to address the disproportionate rate that black people
are admitted to and detained in psychiatric hospitals.
Commission statistics reveal that black people are three times more
likely than white people to be compulsory detained in psychiatric
2003 an independent inquiry into the death of black Rastafarian
David Bennett in the Norvic psychiatric clinic in Norwich highlighted
a "festering abscess of institutionalised racism" in NHS
mental health services.
The government is now almost half way through a five-year action
plan - Delivering Race Equality In Mental Health Care – set
up in response to the inquiry and which aims to end anti-discriminatory
practice in mental health services.
Dr Fernando says the mental health bill, which this week completed
its committee stage in the House of Commons, gives doctors further
powers to compulsory detain patients and will exacerbate the discrimination
of black and ethnic minority people.
Fernando, a former Mental Health Commission inspector of psychiatric
wards, wrote this week in a letter to Blair that he "cannot
possibly accept it [OBE] while the government is pursuing its present
policy regarding mental health legislation…the government
bill currently before parliament is deeply flawed.”
added: “What seems most strange is that the government say
they want to recognise my services to black and minority healthcare
at a time when they are trying to push through legislation that
would make things worse for black people caught up in the mental
Fernando believes that “at the very least” the bill
should have a set of principles written into it to ensure that anti-discriminatory
mental health practice is legally binding. Health Secretary Patricia
Hewitt has rejected this, but said such principles could be included
in a code of practice.
Fernando, a psychiatrist with 23 years experience and now visiting
professor in applied social sciences at London Metropolitan University,
is also angry that ministers “have not taken any notice”
of a raft of other concerns aired by himself, other mental health
professionals and law groups during a series of consultations over
the bill. Critics fear the bill, which is a series of amendments
to present law, threatens civil liberties and would lead to people
being detained without therapeutic benefit.
"My plea to government is to withdraw the bill as it stands
today and get back into a consultation mode,” Dr Fernando
wrote in his rejection letter which he has also sent to the prime-minister-in-waiting
government says the bill is a suitable balance between patient rights
and protecting the public from dangerous people with a mental health
Fernando worked as an NHS psychiatrist from 1970 to 1993, and has
held a string of clinical and academic posts specialising in race
and mental health.
1994 to 2001 he was vice chair of the Transcultural Psychiatry Special
Interest group of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and from 1989
to 1991 he served as a British representative on the World Psychiatric
Association’s executive committee of transcultural psychiatry.
is convention that those rejecting honours should do so privately.
But Fernando’s decision follows that of poet Benjamin Zephaniah
who in 2003 openly dismissed his award as a legacy of colonialism.
Downing Street spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny whether
Dr Fernando had been nominated for an OBE, and was unable to add
any further comments.
* Suman Fernando’s website: www.sumanfernando.com
* This news
story first appeared in a shorter version at guardian.co.uk
by this bill
Miranda Moorland, service user, Tunbridge Wells, Kent. freewebs.com/bruiseduk
you so much Suman for taking a stand on behalf of us all who have
and still do use the mental health system.
The government seem to have sidelined everyone else’s opinion,
from service users to the professionals. Not that we are at all
surprised. They have been determined to railroad through this draconian
bill from the beginning, with no consideration for the patient.
keep harping on about treatment. Yet the only treatment available
is to be drugged at great cost to the NHS and even greater financial
gain by the pharmaceutical companies and at great cost to those
who have to keep taking the tablets - hardly a solution when many
of the drugs given to psychiatric patients especially benzodiazepines
are known to cause panic attacks, agoraphobia, insomnia, nightmares,
tremors, muscle spasms, hallucinations, depression, psychosis, fits
and suicide. This is not something made known to the patients let
alone the general public.
that five core members - making up 85% of the mental health staff
in this country - have withdrawn from the Mental Health Alliance
at the midnight hour, what is to happen now!
is hard to know who is supporting who?
are all terrified by the implications of the bill which has clearly
come out of the Home Office and not the Department of Health.
in the headlines this week we found out that the government has
secretly set up a VIP stalker squad to identify and detain terrorists
and “other” individuals who pose a threat to prominent
people. The unit, staffed by police and psychiatrists, will have
the power to detain suspects indefinitely using mental health laws.
always knew we were becoming a police state but it is happening
almost over night, and we have no way of stopping it when these
bully boy institutions work hand in hand.
need to wake up to the agenda being set in this country before it
is too late! and someone needs to remind the government that they
work for us.
15, 2007: Black patients seeing psychiatrist for first time should
have advocate, government urges - ...meanwhile, the Commission
for Racial Equality is investigating whether the mental health bill
might break race law
2, 2006: Mental health racism claims "meaningless" and
"insulting", claim psychiatry professors - social
exclusion and low socio-economic status largely causes race inequality
figures, argue Swaran Singh and Tom Burns
7, 2005: 'We'll end racism in mental health' says minister -
Rosie Winterton pledge follows report revealing black people are
three times more likely to be admitted to psychiatric hospital
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