Behind the headlines

The inquiry into the death of black mental health patient David
“Rocky” Bennett looks set to become a landmark event. The report
following his death after being restrained by nurses for 25 minutes
highlighted institutional racism in mental health services and
demanded widescale changes to address the “festering abscess” of
racism in the service. The head of the inquiry, Sir John Blofeld,
laid responsibility for failing black people firmly at the door of
the Department of Health.   

Bob Hudson, professor of partnership studies, Centre for
Health Services Management, University of Birmingham

“There is no doubt that African-Caribbean people receive inferior
and, at times, unacceptable treatment from our mental health
services. Commissioners of mental health services need to move
resources away from institutional providers and towards community
services provided by black organisations themselves. And we need to
revisit the ways in which the dominant culture in psychiatry can
serve – albeit unwittingly – as a tool for social and cultural

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“Psychiatric services have unique powers to deprive people of their
liberty and to use a level of force that would not be acceptable
elsewhere. Such powers bring with them enormous responsibilities.
Given the over-representation of black people among those detained
under the Mental Health Act 1983, it is worrying that awareness
training and confronting institutional racism are only now in the
spotlight. The appointment of a national director for mental health
and ethnicity would firmly locate future responsibility.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth
“The headlines of the inquiry into David Bennett’s death
add nothing to what has been on public record for many years. But
the report’s affirmation of institutional racism acknowledges the
hold it has on the structures, systems and strategies, as well as
on the skill and awareness of staff in social and health care. Its
seeking of hard-hitting changes is welcome and a source of

Karen Squillino, children’s services manager,

“Organisations can offer policies, procedures and training
opportunities in relation to cultural awareness. But it is the
continued commitment to these that will be the foundation of
change. One small way to demonstrate this commitment is inviting
individuals, who collectively form organisations, to challenge
their own racism and unlearn what may be many years of prejudice
and ignorance.”

Julia Ross, social services director, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“For nursing and medical staff, the death of David Bennett will
have created shock and uncertainty, and possibly blighted careers
because of discovered failures. Then there is the aftermath – the
inquiry and negative press coverage. We have known for years that
black people are more likely to be treated in conditions of higher
security, and we need to address this. Innovative mental health
services will improve the chances of community-based alternatives
to in-patient care for everyone. The real failure is a chronic lack
of investment in mental health services for many years.”

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