Department accused of institutional racism over consultation on bill

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.

It is claimed that DH officials have not given service users from ethnic minorities enough time to take part in the consultation.

And two of the events planned for this week fall on the Islamic festival of Eid, making it difficult for Muslim service users to be involved.

The criticism was made by 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.

He said he had heard only a month ago about the regional consultation events planned for this week, which gave him insufficient time to discuss them with service users.

“Service users are a 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.

Blackman, a member of a group set up by the department to advise on ethnicity issues, claimed 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 yet to be 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 department and were willing to work with them on the bill but, for some reason, probably some form of institutional racism, they found it difficult to work with us.”

A DH spokesperson said the consultation events were genuine opportunities for people to offer their views and talks were being held 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 precisely and the department would fund anyone who wanted to attend an event outside their region. Prayer rooms would also be available.



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