Race watchdog to investigate bias in system against minority groups

The Commission for Racial Equality is to launch an investigation into inequalities in the mental health system, which could trigger legal action against public bodies.

The move follows last week’s Healthcare Commission census which found black African and Caribbean people were three times more likely to be sectioned than the rest of the population.

Nick Johnson, the CRE’s director of policy and public sector, warned that the CRE would take legal action if the investigation revealed that any public authority was acting in breach of the law.

Johnson said the three-month investigation would be the most “detailed and thorough” piece of work the commission had undertaken in the public sector outside of its formal legal casework.
He said the census laid out the facts about the failure of the system and the investigation would try to find out why it was failing.

The census showed black African and Caribbean people were twice as likely to be referred to services through the criminal justice system.

Johnson said this was a particular area of concern and represented a “glaring failure” at primary care level, with people only being treated when they reached crisis point.

The study, to be undertaken jointly with the Healthcare and Mental Health Act Commissions, will assess how well services have responded to the government’s Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health report.

The report, published in January, in response to the death of David Bennett in a psychiatric ward in 1998, recommended developing more responsive services, improved community engagement and better information.

The areas the CRE will monitor have not been finalised but Johnson said they could include how PCTs were involving ethnic minority communities in their planning, user experience of services, and how carers and families are included in decision making.

Marcel Vige, manager of Mind’s Diverse Minds unit, welcomed the investigation, saying: “It has long been clear that black and minority ethnic people face direct and institutional racism in their dealings with mental health services.”

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