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You dont have to be mad to ignore black communities, but it helps

by Shirin Aguiar-Holloway

HEALTH OFFICIALS got carpeted over an attempt to slip through a poorly-advertised consultation with Black communities over the Mental Health Bill.

Chinyere Inyama
Chinyere Inyama: don&#39t exclude black communites.

The Department of Health (DoH) has admitted failing to properly consult with BME communities, including for rushing through a series of meetings.

Adrian Seiff, a senior civil servant, admitted the consultations “hadn&#39t been perfect” and said the department needed to do things better.

It now has a chance to make things better as the Black Mental Health Network is asking for more time and
greater resources to properly consult its members and is calling for health minister Rosie Winterton to intervene.

The organisation is asking for four more months and resources for already-stretched voluntary organisations.

Marcel Vige, development manager at Diverse Minds, part of mental health charity Mind, told delegates gathered at a DoH-organised central London meeting last Friday.


He said: “As well as major stakeholders we need to ensure that BME service users and potential service users are brought into the process and that will include accessing similar organisations.”

Blink mounted a last ditch appeal for people to attend the mental health consultation
Blink mounted a last ditch appeal for people to attend the mental health consultation

Both Mr Vige and Professor Suman Fernando, senior lecturer in mental health at the University of Kent, were only invited to speak at the meeting at the last minute. Otherwise the only speaker would have been Mr Seiff.

Dr Fernando said there was a lot of unhappiness about the series of meetings organised by the DoH because there was no agreement whereby any BME perspective was given at all.

As a result Dr Fernando said that he himself had almost declined to attend.  He gave a stinging critique of the proposed Mental Health Bill and said it was more like a “law and order Act.”

Earlier Vige told delegates there was concern and frustration about the process of the race impact assessments, a consultative process the department is duty-bound to fulfill.


He said the consultations, including others in Birmingham and Leeds, had been organised within a very short time frame and followed a particular format.

Kamlesh Patel
Kamlesh Patel: concerns about proposed law.

He said: “Although that may be amenable to certain members of the community, consultation needs to be perceived in a far more broader sense, going into hospitals etc.  Who is being accessed?  Have refugees and asylum seekers been brought into it?”

Mr Vige said he had seen five or six service users but instead the “appropriate range of groups” was needed.

Delegates heard from Dr Fernando that all the most worrying aspects of the Bill will particularly affect
BME communities, including the wide definition of mental health, lack of exclusions and lack of safeguards against racism and cultural factors.  Particularly vulnerable groups would be Muslims,
extreme Christians and Communists.

He added:  “I&#39m glad I won&#39t be here when this law comes in.  Most psychiatrists would be relieved if this Act did not go through.”


During question-time David Michael, adviser to the mayor of Lewisham, asked whether the findings and recommendations of the Bennett inquiry would be taken into account when drafting the Bill.

But afterwards he told Blink that Mr Sieff did not answer the question, which he said was disturbing as he was a key part of the process. He said:  “He didn&#39t even demonstrate any appreciation of the findings and recommendations of the inquiry.”

He didn&#39t go into the extent to which it&#39s taken into the process at all.  He said he was going to publish something somewhere.  That falls way short.  It would help them to have a look at the Race Relations
Amendment Act.”

Mr Michael likened the DoH&#39s attitude to ticking a box and said it needed to ensure it was being advised by the right people.

After the meeting, Dr Fernando told Blink that the DoH had been manipulative in the way it had organised the meeting and only pressure and an e-mail flurry led to its agreeing to him and Marcel Vige speak. 

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pdf The recruitment and retention of BME staff in the NHS

pdf Race Equality Foundation briefing: The impact of racism on health inequalities

pdf Race Equality Foundation briefing: Effective communication with service users

pdf Race Equality Foundation briefing: Improving the quality of palliative care

MIND: Rights Guides

pdf BME Needs Assessment: Diabetes and Hypertension

pdf Independent Inquiry into the death of David Bennett

pdf Draft Mental Health Bill


Nightingale Declaration

hyper GUIDE to the Mental Health Act.


Black People's Mental Health Association

Cancer Black Care

Black and Asian Therapists Online

African HIV Policy Network

National BME Mental health Network

The Afiya Trust


Fanon Care

The Federation

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