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Campaigners demand race is included in new mental health reforms

by Matilda MacAttram

LAST WEEK'S admission by Mental Health Tzar Louis Appleby that race would not be addressed in the new mental health legislation has outraged race equality and health campaigners.

Louis Appleby
Health Czar Louis Appleby: loyal to the government despite 'czars' being billed as independent thinkers free from ministerial control.

Professor Appleby's comments came as the government spelt out its plans to reintroduce mental health reforms despite abandoning their draft Mental Health Bill.

Health ministers want to bring by the back door the same changes that have been so bitterly criticised for increasing discrimination against Black mental health users.

Instead of a major Bill going through parliament, the government is looking to slip in a minor 'amendment' Bill, tagging their new reforms onto the old 1983 Mental Health Act, giving us the worst of both worlds.

Professor Appleby, speaking at the same briefing where health minister Rosie Winterton announced that the Government was ditching their mental health legislation, he said: ‘Race will be dealt with in the policy that comes from the Bill rather than in the legislation.'


This has been slammed as insufficient in light of the shocking rates of detention of Black people under the 1983 Mental Health Act.

 - quote - Race will be dealt with in the policy that comes from the Bill rather than in the legislation.  - unquote -
Louis Appleby

Since it was drafted forced detention of African Caribbean’s in secure psychiatric settings has rocketed.

They are 44% more likely to be sectioned, 29% more likely to be forcibly restrained and 50% more likely to be put in seclusion than white British people, despite similar rates of mental ill health.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Kwame Mckenzie told Blink: ‘This Bill runs counter to the Race Relations Amendment Act and Human Rights Act but the message that the Government is giving makes it clear that race does not rank high on its lists of priorities.'

The unacceptably high levels of discrimination within mental health services hit the headlines with the death of David ‘Rocky’ Bennett, an African Caribbean patient in psychiatric care.


The Government Inquiry report into his death highlighted the bad treatment of African Caribbean service users and called for ministerial acknowledgment of institutional racism in mental health services.

Black mental health sufferers are more likely to be over-medicated, restrained and secluded in high security facilities.

Nine areas of reform outlined by the Government include bringing the Bill in line with the Human Rights Act.  However the 1983 Act,  as it is currently drafted runs counter to the both the Race Relations Amendment Act and the Human Rights Act.

The overhaul of this Bill presents a once in a generation chance to influence legislation that could last over 20 years.

Without proper consultation with the Black community the current crisis in BME mental health will only get worse.

Consultant psychiatrist professor Suman Fernando told Blink: ‘Now is the time to be proactive, we should ask for race to be included in the legislative reforms and not be put off.

'When we first suggested that there should be a full and proper Race Equality Impact Assessment on the 2004 Bill we were told by civil servants that it would not be an option, but because of persistent lobbying for our demands, we got one.’

Lord Herman Ouseley, a past CRE chairman, championed BME concerns in House of Lords over the defeated 2004 Bill.


He said: ‘It is clear that the needs  of both Acts have to be met and the concerns of Black health experts should be addressed or there will be huge opposition to the Bill in the Lords.'
Given the proposals in the 2004 Act, health campaigners believe it is time for them to set the agenda of what the new legislation should contain or there is the danger of being left with the worst of both Bills.

Rev Arlington Trotman, secretary of the Churches Commission for Racial Justice believes the Government would be foolish to ignore the Black communities concerns as it was the furore over the badly handled race review of the 2004 Bill that forced them back to the drawing board.

‘There needs to be great scrutiny of the redrafting of the Bill as even though we have won the battle it is definitely not over.

'It was the enormous reaction to the 2004 Bill in the first place caused it’s downfall, and you cannot propose a Bill that does not take race into account, especially now when it is so high on the agenda with the Commission on Human Rights and Equalities.’

Marcel Vige co-chair of the National BME Mental Health network agreed. 'The lobby that brought down the Bill appears to be quite clear on what needs to be challenged in the redrafting of the new Bill.

'There is unified feeling in the BME community in terms of its objectives and we want to make sure that the discrimination is addressed in adjustments to the 1983 Bill.’

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