Fernando has accused Richard Taylor of "completely distort[ing]" her comments yesterdayChamali Fernando

Controversy erupted today as Chamali Fernando fought off allegations that she had proposed that people with mental illnesses wear identifying wristbands.

Reports emerged last night that Ms Fernando had told the audience at an NHS-themed hustings event in Cambridge that those with certain mental illnesses "ought to" wear identifying wristbands to help the authorities when they need assistance.

Referring to the local blogger who broke the story from the NHS hustings last night, a statement from Ms Fernando said: “It is unfortunate that Richard Taylor has completely distorted the comment.

“The question that was asked is how could the authorities such as the police better deal with people with mental health issues. At Cambridge National Autistic Hustings the Chairman of CNAS said he carries a green card in his wallet to identify his condition. Julian Huppert was the person to bring up the Green Card Issue at the Autism Hustings.

“There are people who have come into contact with the police and due to an underlying mental health condition are unable to communicate their condition. It was not that they should wear a wristband. That would be draconian; needless to say it would seem that Richard Taylor is seeking to grab a headline here!"

Emphasising that such an identifier would be optional, Ms Fernando continued: “I gave the example of how people are wrongly accused of obstructing the course of justice for failure to co-operate with the police through no fault of their own and in those instances an identifier could prove useful. I also said it would be a matter of individual choice and through consultation with experts and would need to be accompanied with the requisite training for health care and law enforcement professionals.”

Standing by his initial report, Richard Taylor confirmed to Varsity that the word used by Ms Fernando said that mentally ill people “ought to” wear wristbands.

"I simply accurately reported the statement made at the hustings in a tweet," said Mr Taylor. "What was said has since been confirmed by others including Julian Huppert.

"Fernando has not denied making the suggestion that mentally ill people ought wear coloured wristbands to identify their conditions. I'm surprised Fernando didn't simply admit coming up with a silly idea on the spur of the moment during the hustings and apologise. I think this escapade shows the value of hustings events. Do we in Cambridge want to send someone who blurts out a crazy ill-considered policy at a hustings to represent us in Parliament?"

Responding to criticism from some Twitter users who have called his use of the word "ought" a mistake, Taylor stood by his original record of the events, tweeting: "I fully accept I’m not perfect. I don’t think [the original tweet] did distort, though."

Cambridge News have released what they claim to be a transcript of the exchange in which the phrase "ought to" is not used. In it, Fernando, who is a barrister by profession, responds to a question on mental health by saying: "You touched on diagnosis levels and people waiting in custody without getting the treatment they need... I'm not trained to deal with people in those situations.

"I would like to see more training for legal professionals and police officers.

"Maybe it's something as simple as there are certain conditions which are more common, where people can wear a wristband to identify they have that condition, so that then we can perhaps, not diagnose, but spot it earlier and ensure that we deal with it."

She later cited the "huge problems" in Cambridge with the early diagnosis of autism as a potential example of such a condition.

Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat PPC for Cambridge and MP for Cambridge in the last Parliament, said nothing about the wristband suggestion at the time Fernando made her remarks, but later released a statement after the story was picked up by the press.

In it, he says: “I was really shocked at the suggestion that people with mental health problems should be expected to wear wristbands to identify themselves.

“I have fought hard for many years against the stigma people with mental health problems face. There is already far too much discrimination against mental health throughout our society, and a wristband saying 'I am depressed' is not going to help.

“We need to massively improve mental health support, which has been not good enough for many decades.

“I hope Chamali regrets her comments and will think carefully about her attitude to mental illness in the future.”

On Twitter, Dr Huppert appeared to row back from his initial assertion, saying he did not "recall the exact words" and that Ms Fernando had not stated that such a bracelet or wristband would be compulsory.

Mr Taylor was initially supposed to be recording the event, but told Varsity that his battery ran out of power shortly before Ms Fernando made her statements. The organisers of the event, Keep Our NHS Public, have yet to respond to Varsity's request for comment or for a recording of the hustings.

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