Department of Health’s record on race ‘probably Whitehall’s worst’

The Department of Health has “probably the worst” race equality record of any Whitehall department, despite well-documented racial inequalities in social care and health.

That is the damning verdict of the Commission for Racial Equality, which will conduct a formal investigation into the DH’s record, resulting in legally enforceable recommendations, if it cannot explain itself.

The DH has until mid-September to explain why it has not carried out race equality impact assessments into most of its policies, as required by law (see Race Equality Impact Assessments).

The news follows findings that just seven of 570 NHS trusts, and one of 61 mental health trusts, had fulfilled statutory requirements to publish race equality information on their websites. Some could face CRE enforcement action.

The commission’s director of policy and public sector, Nick Johnson (pictured), said the DH’s poor record was doubly damning because of the prevalence of racial inequalities in health, and accused it of “institutional complacency”.

He said: “If it’s not happening it says a lot about the management of the department as well as their performance on race issues.”

The DH has consulted on a race equality impact assessment on its plans to amend the Mental Health Act 1983, but this was criticised by black mental health leaders who said they were given too little time to respond.

The department carried out a race assessment on the draft Mental Health Bill before it dropped the proposed legislation, but this was also criticised for the tight consultative timescales.

Last year the CRE found that the DH’s then race equality scheme failed to comply with statutory requirements.

The DH admitted last week that it needed to improve. A spokesperson said it was devising an action plan to ensure assessments were made, and had set up an advisory panel, including external experts. He was unable to confirm how many policies had been assessed.

Race Equality Impact Assessments
Under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, public bodies must carry out impact assessments on any policies relevant to race equality.

Under the same act, the Commission for Racial Equality can investigate and enforce action on bodies for failing to comply.

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