The inquiry into the death of David Bennett, the African-Caribbean
man diagnosed with schizophrenia who died after being restrained by
health staff, is right to call for a national director for mental
health and ethnicity. It would send a signal to the highest level
of the NHS that the government is serious about making the kind of
changes that were already being discussed when the ground-breaking
Stephen Lawrence inquiry report was published five years ago. That
report found institutional racism to be widespread, not just in the
police but in the public sector generally. The message from the
Bennett inquiry is that, as far as mental health services and the
NHS are concerned, little has changed.
A great deal of time has been spent debating the
over-representation of black people among mental health patients
and their under-representation among staff. Now it is time to act.
The NHS is one of our finest institutions, but it will be
increasingly difficult to justify this status unless it better
reflects the society it serves. Institutional racism is indeed a
“festering abscess”, to quote the Bennett inquiry, and it must be
pushed to the top of the waiting list for a cure.