The government’s programme to tackle race inequality in the mental health system has had limited impact on the ground and has become a barrier to real change, campaigners have warned.
The government said last week that one of the reasons it would carry out a race equality impact assessment only on its proposed amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983, rather than on the whole amended act, was that its Delivering Race Equality (DRE) programme was already taking action on the 1983 act generally.
But academic and former psychiatrist Suman Fernando said the programme, a five-year plan launched last year to tackle discrimination in mental health services, was becoming a “barrier to change, rather than helping change” if the government was using it to justify not carrying out a full race assessment.
Fernando, honorary senior lecturer in mental health at the University of Kent, said DRE had promised a system change but was not backed by sufficient political muscle.
And, because the funding for DRE was not ring-fenced, community development workers who were meant to do much of the practical work were often recruited internally and given their responsibilities in addition to existing jobs.
Sashi Sashidharan, a professor at the Warwick University Centre for Ethnicity and Mental Health, said DRE was having “absolutely no impact”.
Sashidharan, who sat on the inquiry into the death of David Bennett, which preceded DRE, said the programme was about “warm words” rather than any specific actions to change practice.
But Marcel Vige, development manager of charity Mind’s Diverse Minds unit, said DRE was “extremely positive in its intention” and would produce some benefits, but pointed out that it would only last five years.
A DH spokesperson said the government “never expected everything to be made right in the first year” but claimed good progress was being made.