Open Forum

The leaked report on the Department of Health’s race review of the draft Mental Health Bill has once again placed the public spotlight on the damaging effect this proposed law will have on ethnic minorities.

Much to the chagrin of senior civil servants these latest developments look set to derail plans to keep the bill to the parliamentary timetable and have it presented in parliament before the end of the year.

The devastating impact that the Mental Health Act 1983 has had on ethnic minorities and the African Caribbean community in particular has meant that there is a growing feeling that everything should be done to ensure that this new bill does not exacerbate the current situation.

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 places a duty on all public bodies to carry out a Race Equality Impact Assessment (REIA) on all new legislation to ensure the elimination of unlawful discrimination. Given the stereotypical diagnosis on which African Caribbeans are currently sectioned many believe that this bill flies in the face of this duty and so is therefore potentially unlawful.

Almost a year after these concerns were first raised the DH has found itself receiving exactly the same advice from its own advisory committee, which has called for a REIA to be conducted before the bill is announced in parliament. This could delay the bill by up to four months. The committee’s 24 recommendations include the narrowing of the definition of mental disorder, incorporating findings from the David Bennett inquiry on control and restraint and overmedication into the bill, and removing the provision to detain anyone appearing dangerous.

DH statistics showing that African Caribbeans are disproportionately misdiagnosed, over-medicated, forcibly restrained and sectioned are not new. There needs to be a complete overhaul of this bill in order to ensure  the African Caribbean community does not lose another generation to this potentially devastating legislation.

Matilda MacAttram is senior race relations health consultant at The 1990 Trust

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