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Hooray for Suman Fernando

Thank 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 surprised, as they have been determined to railroad through this draconian Mental Heath Bill from the beginning, with no consideration for the patient.

The Government 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 greater cost to those who have to take the medication, 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.

Now that 5 core members making up 85% of the mental health staff in this country have withdrawn from the Mental Health Alliance at the midnight hour, what is to happen now!

I also note that the Mental Health Alliance have made no comment about this on their site as now there must only be 70 organisations working together?

It is hard to know who is supporting who?

Where is the choice a word that is banded about far too much yet is not permitted within 

mental health, I can choose who operates on me etc. Yet have no choice as to who or how I am treated within the Mental Health System.

We are all terrified by the implications of the Mental Health Bill which has clearly come out of the Home Office and not the Department of Health, in the headlines this week we have 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"

It is staggering to think that any human can have their liberties taken from them no matter what they may or may not have done. We are now being categorised as terrorists and stalkers and implying that all terrorists and stalkers are mad, with no conclusive biological test to date that varifies that anyone is sane or mad.

This violates everyone's human rights, this bill is about power and control, not about therapeutic care, it is barbaric and must be stopped.

The Government and Media are causing stigma and discrimination, they are inciting the public into believing that those who have been bruised by life are dangerous.

This bill will allow ANYONE to be contained and treated against their will, this gives the authorities power over every citizen no matter their ethnicity, creed age or religion and more importantly whether or not a crime has been committed in the first place.

I 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.

We need to wake up to the Agenda being set in this country before it is too late!

We need to remind the Government that they work for us.

So thank you for taking a stand Suman, as it takes "just one drop"

Suman Fernando's Response

Dear Miranda,

Thanks for taking this up. I am convinced that the agenda driving the government is sinister. May be MPs and others are sleep walking into something they do not understand. And now each professional group is pursuing its own narrow interests around ‘who has most power’. Parliament (with some notable exceptions) seem to be about to do an Iraq on us. I hope gestures (like mine) will be copied by others (I dream of people queuing at the Palace gates to return their medals!) But may be all this needs a national campaign while we still have the right to campaign. But how can this happen? It is not just about the ‘mentally ill’ nor just about black people. We saw what happened in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. And we should recall Pastor Niemoller’s famous statement – ‘first they came … and I did not speak out..’ etc. It is not unlikely that in a few years, people who are viewed as having ‘unacceptable’ ideas that the general public are conditioned to see as ‘dangerous’ will be caught up in MH legislation if they escape (what is called) ‘anti-terrorism legislation’. The ground is being prepared with Govt pouring in resources into ‘Personality Disorder services’ (with ‘personality disorder psychologists, Consultants, CPNs the lot) for (what they still talk of as) DPD people. The danger to the public from MH services being used for suppression of thought and behaviour has always existed (hence the need for action to minimize the risks to the public) but this becomes more likely if the amendments before parliament are passed, training based on the new approaches get under way, the culture of mental health changes and so on.

Tell me more of what you know about the ‘stalker squad’ and moves to identify people who pose a threat to prominent people - no doubt because of their ‘dangerous’ beliefs that will soon be seen as clinical ‘delusions’. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is asking their members about stalking too! Is this in line with some Govt request perhaps implicit?


Suman Fernando - Cultural diversity, racism and psychiatry

Britain has always been culturally diverse, but racism has come to the fore as a major issue in many British social systems, including psychiatry. Issues in mental health around race and culture are well known and are briefly described. The concepts of ‘culture’, ‘race’ and ‘racism’ are discussed. So-called ‘ethnic issues’ in British mental health services are explored by examining the history of psychiatry — and institutional racism is identified as one of the main issues that results in inequalities in mental health service provision. Fundamental changes in psychiatry are needed if the racism of current mental health systems is to be addressed. But alternatives to the present system will need to grapple with racism, and draw their ethos from a diversity of cultural backgrounds, if they are to serve the needs of all communities in the UK equitably.

Suman Fernando was a consultant psychiatrist in Enfield for over twenty years and then an academic at the Tizard Centre, University of Kent at Canterbury. He is involved in voluntary organisations serving black and minority ethnic (BME) communities in London and Sri Lanka and lectures on issues of race and culture in mental health in UK and Canada. He is Honorary Senior Lecturer in the European Centre for Migration and Social Care (MASC) at the University of Kent and Honorary Professor in the Department of Applied Social Studies, London Metropolitan University.

His books include Mental Health, Race and Culture (2nd edition 2002), Cultural Diversity, Mental Health and Psychiatry: The Struggle against Racism, 2003, and he is the editor of Mental Health in a Multi-ethnic Society 1995.

His website is at

An eminent psychiatrist says he has turned down an OBE in protest at the government's "deeply flawed" plans to extend compulsory powers of detention over the mentally ill.

Dr Suman Fernando was told last week by Downing Street that he had been nominated for the honour for his "services to black and minority ethnic mental healthcare".

But he has publicly rejected the award, accusing NHS mental health services of being institutionally racist.

He fears that changes proposed in the mental heath bill going through parliament will fail to address the disproportionate rate at which black people are admitted to and detained in psychiatric hospitals.

The government says its bill strikes a suitable balance between patient rights and protecting the public from dangerous people with a mental illness.

But Dr Fernando said the bill, which could give doctors further powers to compulsory detain patients, would exacerbate the discrimination against black and ethnic minority people.

He wrote this week in a letter to the departing prime minister, Tony Blair, that he "cannot possibly accept it [the OBE] while the government is pursuing its present policy regarding mental health legislation... the government bill currently before parliament is deeply flawed."

He 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 health system."

Dr 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.

The health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has rejected this, but said such principles could be included in a code of practice.

Dr 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 and other mental health professionals during a series of consultations over the bill.

"My plea to government is to withdraw the bill as it stands today and get back into a consultation mode," Fernando wrote in his rejection letter, which he has also sent to the prime minister-in-waiting, Gordon Brown.

Dr 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. From 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.

It is convention that those rejecting honours should do so privately. But Dr Fernando follows in the footsteps of poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who in 2003 openly dismissed his award as a legacy of colonialism.

A 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.

Honour Declined

The Sri Lankan who said no to an OBE


HONOUR DECLINED: We Sri Lankans are well known for craving all things foreign. Most people in this country look up to an education from an overseas university almost deferentially and expect the recipient to perform near miraculous feats.

They grovel before foreigners; love to imitate their accents while coveting hugely any kind of recognition by an alien government. Chaps who are habitually unpunctual at gatherings of locals will not be a minute late for cocktail parties hosted by foreign embassies and that too sweating profusely in the stipulated formal attire.

Recently I met a Sri Lankan who in his own quiet way has trodden a different path, at least when it comes to abjectly lapping up foreign honours.

Dr Suman Fernando, a psychiatrist by training and a dedicated social worker is an old Royalist who recalls among his classmates in the 1950s well-known Colombo personalities like Dr Rasaratnam, Panchalingam and Nirmal Pieris.

“After completing my studies at Royal I left for Cambridge where I did a MBBS. On my return in 1960 I volunteered to serve at the Angoda Mental Hospital, which was then a neglected place where very few doctors wanted to work.

Incredibly, my seniors discouraged me from working with these unfortunate people. My sense of idealism and service did not go down well with the entrenched medical bureaucracy, which then was a cartel quite cynical about the whole thing and thought of me as a young irritant. Dejected by their manipulations I went back to England and have lived there since.”

For the young man practising medicine was more than a convenient way to earn buckshee and command a fat dowry. Suman had imbibed a spirit of selfless service from his father Dr C.W.S. Fernando a left leaning political activist who one time was secretary of the Labour Party started by AE Gunasinghe. Unable to take the path of gross careerism that was offered to him here Suman decided to pursue a medical career in England.

There he met the female doctor and academic Frances Leffort who was then deeply involved in political activity as a member of the British Labour Party. Soon a romance bloomed between her and the bright young idealist from Ceylon and the couple married in 1963. Their only daughter Sirina is a Psychoanalyst now working in London.

“I devoted my life to the cause of mental health. My work in this field has given me tremendous fulfilment. The modern approach towards those needing psychiatric help is a community and family based one. We psychiatrists don’t just sit at our desks and prescribe medicine any more. We go out there to the patient, come to know his family and try to get him involved in the community.”

Suman is passionate about his profession. “As you know mental health is a relative thing. People who appear quite normal can some times be in need of psychiatrist help. The stresses of modern living are enormous. When you take a place like London, with millions of people from different cultures living in a tremendously competitive environment we can find many in need of help. I enjoy helping these people to integrate meaningfully with the society around them”

Suman’s work quite naturally involved him with the various black and other minority groups living in London. “These people, living far away from their traditional homes face tremendous odds in trying to integrate with the society around them. The incidents of mental breakdowns among them are quite high. This is often reflected in the high levels of alcoholism, family problems, crime and suicide among these minority groups.”

It was Suman’s dedicated service to their cause that saw the OBE, the acronym for the Order of the British Empire, being offered to him in May this year. “About this time Tony Blair’s Government had introduced a Bill to amend the Mental Health Act which in my opinion widened the scope to lock up those considered mentally sick.

This logically would lead to the greater suppression of minority groups who are vulnerable in that society because of their circumstances. It was regrettable that a Labour government was sponsoring this law. We led a big protest against the amending act.”

“The very Government which was offering to confer an OBE on me was acting on the other hand to harm the group that I have worked all my life to protect. I discussed the issue with my wife and a few friends and decided to decline the offer.

So I wrote a courteous letter to the Prime Minister giving my reasons. His office responded with a polite letter expressing their regret at my decision. All the correspondence was conducted fairly expeditiously and in a civil tone. This correspondence eventually came out in the newspapers”

While firmly refusing the coveted honours of his adopted country Suman is not unmindful of the huge chasm that separates it from his land of birth. “In Sri Lanka the care given to the patients is based on the Mental Health Law which dates back to 1880. This is even before Freud, born in 1856, came out with his famous theories. In the period when I worked at Angoda the situation there was appalling. Although it is much improved now there is lot more to be done.

“Do you know that there are over 150 Sri Lankan Psychiatrists working in the United Kingdom while in this country we have only about 30 practitioners ? This is not a surprise. A doctor just starting out in the UK can earn about 30,000 Pounds a year and when he becomes a consultant can easily command 60,000 Pounds. And of course the quality of life is very different too.”

When asked about life in England he was generous in his assessment. “It is a free and open society. A person, even a foreigner, can disagree or dissent without fear of reprisals. One is free to express opinions and act according to his convictions in that society.”

Yet Dr Suman Fernando is deep down a Sri Lankan wanting the best for the land of his forefathers. “I like to see more awareness of mental health so that proper care can be provided for the sick. Presently I am involved in several projects in this field which is why I keep coming to Sri Lanka often.”