|David ‘Rocky’ Bennett: findings from the report into his death ‘ignored’
Campaigners hoped the case of David ‘Rocky’ Bennett – dubbed ‘the Stephen Lawrence of the mental health world’ – would lead to a radical shake-up in how mental health institutions dealt with black patients.
But a new Department of Health steering group into black mental health issues is accused of excluding critical voices, such as Rocky’s sister Dr Joanna Bennett, and sidelining the issues raised in the Bennett inquiry report.
Frustration at how the government is dealing with black mental health issues boiled over at a conference on Tuesday entitled ‘’Tackling Inequalities in Mental Health’.
Health minister Rosie Winterton refused to admit the NHS was institutionally racist despite being repeatedly challenged by Robert Jones, Social Care and Inclusion Development Manager at Camden and Islington Mental Health Trust.
When the Bennett inquiry concluded in February, Health Secretary John Reid angered experts by failing to respond to the report’s key findings in his Commons statement.
Reid avoided admitting his department was ‘institutionally racist’ and shunned other recommendations such as a call to appoint a national director for ethnicity and mental health.
‘People’s Peer’ Lord Victor Adebowale, a homelessness expert, has been appointed joint chairman of a new Black and Minority Ethnic steering group, which met for the first time in the House of Lords on Monday.
But key figures such as Dr Joanna Bennett, one of Britain’s most prominent black mental health experts, and Professor Sashi Sashidharan, have been excluded. Both were critical of the governments’ poor response to the Rocky Bennett inquiry.
Dr Joanna Bennett, whose five-year campaign led to the inquiry into her brothers’ death in October 1998, said: “It has come as a surprise to find out that there is not even one African Caribbean representative who has worked in this area on the committee.
“Key people who have been working for change in this area for a very long time have been completely excluded.
|Key people who have been working for change in this area for a very long time have been completely excluded
“Employment services, the criminal justice system and the Black Police Association all have critical roles to play in redressing this problem of overrepresentation of black people in mental health services but they have all been excluded.”
Professor Sashidharan added: “‘It is typical of the Department of Health to set up a quango with people who have no expertise in this area and so will not ask any awkward questions. Hardly anyone who has been visibly agitating for change is on this committee.
“The group is by no means representative of the community it is supposed to assist. The composition of the group reminds me of the old colonial civil service rather than a committee which is part of a programme set up to improve the BME experience of mental health services.
“This is a deliberate process of exclusion of those who have been working in this area for many years and will ask the sort of question that will make people feel uncomfortable.”
|Lord Victor Adebowale: his committee excluded critical voices
The 31-member committee includes Sharon Grant, chair of the new Commission for Public and Patient Involvement in Health, Dr Beverley Malone, general-secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, and health expert Professor Kamlesh Patel. Lord Adebowale shares chairmanship of the committee with health minister Rosie Winterton.
Despite the expertise on the group, some fear that the government lack the political will to stamp out the discrimination and poor service meted out to black patients.
Black men are currently six times more likely than their white counterparts to be sectioned under the mental health act. Once in the system they are more likely to receive harsher less therapeutic treatments.
Lee Jasper, Policy Director to the Mayor of London and BME Mental Health Steering Group Committee member said: “We do need to ensure that there is proper representation from the African Caribbean community to improve service.
“I will do my utmost to ensure that we do have a voice when key decision are being made.”
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Rocky Bennett inquiry reports next week
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