DH accused of institutional racism

The Department of Health has been accused of institutional racism over the way it has handled the race equality impact assessment of the mental health bill.

Peter Blackman, chief executive of the Afiya Trust, the host agency for the National Black and Minority Ethnic Mental Health Network, a national coalition of agencies and individuals, said officials had not given BME service users enough time to take part in consultation.

Regional consultation events are planned for this week but Blackman, a member of a BME advisory group on the bill set up by the department, said he only heard about them a month in advance, giving insufficient time to properly discuss it with service users.

“Service users are by default a very vulnerable group of people and we have to be sensitive and build the proper trust and build the proper working relationship with them so they feel safe to articulate their views,” he said.

He also pointed out that two of the meetings are on Eid, making it difficult for Muslim services users to be involved.

Blackman argued the bill was fundamentally racist in that it was “basically about locking up black people” who were seen by the public as threatening.

He said the consultation events and a report from the advisory group, which has not yet been published, did not constitute a true race equality impact assessment “because no full and rigorous consultation has taken place”.

He added: “We were approached by the DH and were very willing to work with them on it (the bill) but for some reason, probably to do with some form of institutional racism, they found it difficult to work with us.”

A DH spokesperson said the consultation events were a genuine opportunity for people to offer their views and the department was negotiating with members of the network about their possible involvement.

She said it had been difficult to plan around Eid because of not knowing when it would fall, but said the department would fund anyone who wanted to attend an event outside their region. Prayer rooms would also be available and consultation would be ongoing, she added.

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