Racist mental health services still failing minorities

Mental health services are still failing people from black and
minority ethnic communities, the independent inquiry into the death
of David Bennett concludes, writes Katie

Bennett, a 38-year-old African Caribbean suffering from
schizophrenia, died after being restrained by staff in the Norvic
Clinic, a medium secure unit in Norwich. 

The inquiry found that institutional racism has been present in
mental health services for many years, and recommended that all
staff working in mental health services should receive cultural
awareness training.

The inquiry adopted the definition of institutional racism set
out by Sir William Macpherson in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. This
said that “institutional racism is the collective failure of an
organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to
people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”.

The inquiry report said: “At present people from the black and
minority ethnic communities, who are involved in the mental health
services, are not getting the service they are entitled to. Putting
it bluntly, this is a disgrace. Final responsibility lies fairly
and squarely with the Department of Health”.

The inquiry makes 22 recommendations, stating that ministers
should acknowledge institutional racism and that a national
director for mental health and ethnicity should be appointed.

A DoH spokesperson said the department was “absolutely
committed” to eliminating racism and discrimination within health
and social care. However, the inquiry still has reservations.

“In view of the history we reserve judgment about whether these
good intentions will be translated into action and that will be
sufficient to cure this festering abscess, which is a blot upon the
NHS,” it states.

The inquiry said the mental health workforce should be
ethnically diverse and steps should be taken to recruit black and
minority ethnic staff.

All mental health services should have a written policy on
racist abuse and a national system of training in restraint and
control should be established. “Under no circumstances” should a
patient be restrained in a ‘prone’ position or face down for longer
than three minutes – Bennett had been restrained for around 25.

Health secretary John Reid said: “We deeply regret the death of
David Bennett. We are committed to making change happen.

“Behaviours and processes that have grown up in mental health
services mean that there is particular inequity in the provision of
care and outcomes for people from black and ethnic minority

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