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Mental Health Bill panned by governments own advisory panel

by Matilda MacAttram

A GOVERNMENT-APPOINTED Advisory Group has criticised the Department of Health’s race review of the Mental Health Bill as inadequate, saying that it will do little to reduce the current discrimination faced by black patients.

Chinyere Inyama
Chinyere Inyama: we have lost a generation to present mental health laws.

Blink has obtained a leaked copy of the Race Equality Impact Assessment (REIA) Advisory Group’s Report, which is due to be published with the redrafted Bill later this year.

The findings will pile pressure on the government to address concerns raised by Black professionals about the negative impact the proposed law will have on African Caribbeans in particular.

Health experts are concerned about the new much wider definition of mental illness.

They fear the provision to detain anyone for appearing dangerous, the increase in police powers of detention and the lack of safeguards around over medication will make current racial inequalities worse.

The report highlights the problem of over representation of BME patients in the detained patient population and says “the  Home Office should consider how the proposed law which will widened the criteria under which anyone can be detained will further effect ethnic minorities”.


Consultant psychiatrist professor Suman Fernando said: “There have to be safeguards against people being sectioned on the basis of racial stereotypical judgements being made and at the moment there aren’t any.

Suman Fernando
Suman Fernando: things will get worse under proposed mental health laws.

“Sectioning under this Bill is much more dependent on people being perceived as dangerous, which is already racially discriminatory. This Bill will make things worse.”

The report also highlighted that the proposals in the Bill as it  is currently drafted will perpetuate the trend of high section rates for African Caribbean’s that have occurred the current 1983 Act, contravening current legal safeguards set out under the Race Relations Amendment Act.

Mental health lawyer Chinyere Inyama said: “The whole point of the RRAA was to deal with institutional racism, this particular issue is vital to African Caribbean’s because the last Bill had such a negative impact on us.

“We have lost a generation and have to do everything possible to make sure that this is not repeated.”

The report also flagged up specific concerns the Advisory Group had over the criteria laid out for a mental health order. It said &#39it is so loosely worded that if it is not rewritten or removed from the Bill it will increase likelihood of BME groups being placed under a restriction order&#39.


African Caribbean’s are currently six times more likely to be sectioned than their white counterparts despite similar morbidity rates.

Making reference to the David ‘Rocky’ Bennett Inquiry Report, the Advisory Group saw this as an opportunity to build on the recommendations made in the Report, focusing in particular on the opportunity it presented to prevent the inappropriate use of both seclusion and restraint.

The Bennett report looked at the reasons behind the untimely death of Rocky while in psychiatric care, found mental health services to be institutionally racist.

DOH statistics indicate that African Caribbean’s are more likely to be forcibly restrained, detained in secure psychiatric settings and be over medicated than any other ethnic group.

Claire Felix, co-chair of the National BME Mental Health Network, believes, if the leaked report is accurate, then the Advisory Groups call for amendments to the Bill that would enshrine in law effective monitoring of all violent incidences within psychiatric care, ‘is a step in the right direction’.

Findings in the report conclude that unless there is a wide based consultation with key stakeholders including BME service users and carers the new much wider definition of mental illness, the provision to detain anyone for appearing dangerous, the increase in police powers of detention and the lack of safeguards around over medication will make current racial inequalities worse.


“The definition of mental illness in this Bill is so wide that it could include anybody who is considered to have peculiar ideas’” professor Fernando said.

“In future depending on the political climate if you have peculiar ideas this could come under the Bill and seen as a mental disorder and that is way I feel that this Bill is so dangerous.”

The report warns the DOH that is cannot rely on the handful of consultations that have already taken place around the Bill but needs to ensure that there is a wide based consultation involving both users and carers.

Health experts believe the findings in this report are an indication that the Department of Health have not taken responsibility for race equality seriously.

Professor Fernando added: “The DOH were aware of the legal duty under the Race Relations Amendment Act to ensure the elimination of unlawful discrimination, two years ago and did not bother to begin to carry out a REIA until the Scruitiny Committee reported in March.

“With pressure to get this Bill to the Commons before the end of the year there is a possibility that the DOH will just go ahead and publish it anyway.”

Concerned at BME health experts dissatisfaction the consultation with the Black communities the Health Minister Rosie Winterton met with National BME Mental Health members earlier this week. 

The Network are calling for a further four month consultation period which involves canvassing the view of inpatients and out patients in psychiatric hospitals, carers and the wider community. 

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