Agency head pledges to do more to tackle institutional racism in NHS

The chief executive of the National Institute for Mental Health has
admitted that parts of the NHS are institutionally racist.

Giving evidence at the independent inquiry into the treatment of an
African-Caribbean patient who died after being restrained by
psychiatric staff, Anthony Sheehan said: “It is true [parts of the
NHS are racist]. We should have no tolerance of it.”

The independent inquiry into the care of 38-year-old David Bennett
at the Norwich-based medium secure psychiatric unit, The Norvic
Clinic, was set up under health service guidelines after Bennett’s
death in October 1998.

Asked what he could do as chief executive to help tackle
institutional racism, Sheehan promised “a strong and visible black
presence in the NIMHE”, with 12 more appointments being made by the
end of the year. Currently, just two of the NIMHE’s 28 senior
managers are non-white.

“I do not believe this organisation can tackle all racism in the
NHS, but it will begin to tackle it in mental health,” Sheehan

He added that the restraint training system in use was “wrong”,
“awful” and needed to change. He said the NIMHE was planning to
make two appointments in training and management.

Consultant psychiatrist and inquiry panel member, professor Sashi
Sashidharan, said he recognised the intention to change things, but
questioned the worth of such a commitment given that the history of
mental health services and the department of health was “so awfully

Inquiry chairperson Sir John Blofeld, a retired high court judge,
said that the general impression was that there was “a lot of good
will but that everyone was leaving it to someone else to say what
should be done”.

Mental health development manager for the Commission for Health
Improvement (CHI) Dominic Ford said that the trust in Norfolk where
the Norvic Clinic was based had been “one of the weaker
organisations” reviewed.

He said the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection, due to
replace CHI from next April, would have the power to draw
ministers’ attention to organisations in need of assistance.

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