The original deadline for recruiting 500 professionals into a unique mental health role to improve relationships with people from ethnic minorities is likely to be missed by nearly three years, Community Care has learned.
The government’s Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health Care strategy, launched in 2005, required primary care trusts in England to recruit all of the community development workers (CDWs) by 2006.
So far, 420 are in post, and a Department of Health spokesperson admitted primary care trusts were not expected to fill the remaining 15% of vacancies until next spring.
The news came as health watchdogs revealed that services were failing in three of the other key aims of the strategy: to reduce the rates of admission of people from ethnic minorities to inpatient units in England and Wales and cut their disproportionate rates of compulsory detention and seclusion.
CDWs – described by the spokesperson as the programme’s “frontline troops” – are employed to engage ethnic minority communities to help adapt services to their cultural needs.
PCTs had appointed only 170, or one-third, by the end of 2006 so the deadline was extended to December 2007.
The DH spokesperson said that since 2004-05, funding had been allocated for CDWs but “ultimately PCTs have responsibility for deciding local priorities”.
He added: “The department has always been very clear, though, that this is a target that should be met.”
David Stout, director of the Primary Care Trust Network at the NHS Confederation, said the target was “important” but warned against merely measuring “the input not the outcome”.
The requirement is not included in the NHS Operating Framework, which sets out priorities for each year. Stout said: “Commissioners have many priorities but limited resources.”
Jane Harris, head of campaigns at Rethink, urged PCTs to “realise how neglected ethnic minority communities are by mental health services and invest urgently in these key staff”.
She added that Rethink provides seven CDWs in Kent and “knows what a massive difference they can make”.
In their annual census of in-patient services, the Healthcare Commission, Mental Health Act Commission and National Institute for Mental Health in England found admission rates for ethnic minority groups had risen for the fourth consecutive year to 23%, up from 20% in 2005. Minority communities made up less than 9% of the population in England and Wales in the 2001 census.
In England alone, black Caribbean people were 4.5 times more likely than the average to be admitted.
|Case study of a CDW
|David Pinder (pictured right) has been a community development worker (CDW) with the African and
Caribbean community in Lambeth, south London, since February.
|With funding from Lambeth Primary Care Trust, he has helped to launch four projects focused on the recovery and re-integration of people with mental health problems.
He said: “CDWs are the glue between the community and the commissioners. We make sure their needs are communicated to those at strategic level, and translate them into services which make a tangible difference in people’s lives.”