The most surprising aspect of the inquiry into the death of David
“Rocky” Bennett is that people seem so shocked. Yet mental health
services have been failing black and ethnic minority communities
For too long people from ethnic minority communities have been
given the most severe diagnoses, assigned to secure services and
denied access to the most modern therapies and care.
Those who work in mental health have said they feel insulted by the
report’s charge of institutional racism. Yet what else explains the
death by asphyxiation of a young black man in a secure unit staffed
by nurses who did not realise the cumulative effect of years of
treating people as lesser beings?
Institutional racism was coined by the Macpherson report into the
murder of Stephen Lawrence. It describes the “collective failure of
an organisation” and “unwitting prejudice, ignorance,
thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping”.
The effect on the Metropolitan Police has been a leap in
recruitment from ethnic communities, more black officers climbing
the career ladder and the appointment of Britain’s first black
chief constable, in Kent.
There are still huge problems, but at least the Met can tell
Londoners how many people are stopped and searched on the street,
the percentage that come from ethnic communities and the numbers
that go on to be charged.
The NHS can’t even tell us how many black people have died in
However, the report’s findings have lessons for all of us involved
in mental health.
So what about Rethink? We are determined to get it right but there
has been pain along the way. Not least when ethnic minority staff,
service users and carers made it clear just how far the
organisation was from its aim of being the charity “for everyone
affected by severe mental illness”.
The long-term direction for health and social care appears to be a
nationally regulated system of services delivered by a wide variety
of statutory, voluntary, not-for-profit and private providers. In
this new world providers will be judged on how they involve the
people who use their services and how much choice they build into
what they do.
The Bennett report shows we need to work a lot harder.
Claire Felix is the ethnic minority manager at mental
health charity Rethink.