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Government half measures on Rocky Bennett

Exclusive by Matilda MacAttram

THE SISTER of David 'Rocky' Bennett gave a cautious welcome to a government action plan responding to a public inquiry into her brothers death in the mental health system.

David 'Rocky' Bennett: killed in mental health system
David 'Rocky' Bennett: killed in mental health system.

In an exclusive interview with Blink, Dr Joanna Bennett said the Department of Health race strategy on mental health did not go far enough.

She pledged to step up her campaign to implement the recommendations of the Rocky Bennett public inquiry, which reported in February last year.

Dr Bennett gave a cautious welcome to the document, called 'Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health Care', which was launched earlier today.

But she criticised ministers for failing to introduce limits on the physical restraint of mental patients to prevent asphyxia, preventing unneccesarily high doses of medication, and for refusing to acknowledge that the NHS was institutionally racist.


Ministers refusals come despite figures showing African-Caribbeans six times more likely to be 'sectioned' under mental health law than white people.

Download the Government action plan in response to the Bennett inquiry

pdf   document Delivering race equality in mental health care (PDF, 1321K)

Dr Bennett said: “This report represents a good development in the process of getting fairer treatment.

“We have never before had black peoples concerns over mental health profiled at such a senior ministerial level in this country and so we have to see it as a watershed.”

But she added: “The report fails to address the concerns raised in the Bennett inquiry about control and restraint, which was one of the major factors that led to Rocky Bennett tragic death.”


Health ministers refusal to introduce new procedures to prevent death is at odds with MP's, who recommended a time limit to face-down restraint in a report by the all-party Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Dr Joanna Bennett:
Dr Joanna Bennett: wants concerns addressed

Health minister Rosie Winterton described the new action plan as “very ambitious.”

She said: “We certainly accept there is very clear evidence that black people are less likely to access mental health services early enough.

“They are more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act. They are more likely to stay in inpatient care than their white counterparts.

“They are more likely to recieve medication and ECT [electric shock treatment] than psycological therapies, for example.”

But she refused to admit that the NHS was institutionally racist. Speaking on BBC radio 4's Today programme this morning, Winterton said: “I'm not sure using the title 'institutional racist' is helpful.


“Sometimes if you say an institution is institutionally racist it can paralyse it. What we want is actually action, not labels that people can then hide behind.”

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Dr Kwame McKenzie, a senior lecturer in psychiatry at the Royal Free medical school, told Blink: “It’s difficult for a health minister to admit publicly that the NHS is racist because of John Reid's refusal to admit this when the Bennett Report was published last year, even if it’s the truth.”

Last November Health Secretary Reid told Blink the term institutional racism was a “cop out.”


Speaking this morning Professor Kamlesh Patel, director of the DoH’s Mental Health Black and Minority Ethnic Programme, welcomed the government's 77-page strategy.

Rosie Winterton
Labels 'unhelpful': Rosie Winterton

He said: “This action plan will develop and change over time, and has the potential to transform the care that black and ethnic minority patients receive from mental health services in this country.

“It is not about separate mental health services – it is not possible to adequately address improvements in access, experience and outcomes for BME mental health patients without taking a mainstream approach.”

Angela Greatley, chief executive of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, said: “We are concerned that much of action plan is strong in principle but vague in detail. There are no clear targets to attain.

“It is not specified how improvements are going to be measured or how NHS trusts will be held accountable for achieving results. These important gaps need to be filled to make the plan the success we all want it to be.”

The government's 'blueprint' outlines changes to mental health care for black patients over the next five years. The report follows the death of 38-year-old David ‘Rocky’ Bennett at a Norwich mental health unit. The case prompted a public inquiry.

Erroll Francis, a manager at the Sainsbury’s Centre for Mental Health’s Breaking the Circles of Fear programme, acknowledged the government wanted to reduce excessive rates of compulsory admissions, violent incidents and of the use of seclusion.

But he said: “The document does not specify how far these should be reduced nor how services are going to be assessed for achieving them”

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