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Rewrite “dangerous” Bill say campaigners

by Matilda MacAttram

Health campaigners have called for the Mental Health Bill to be rescheduled so that statutory race-impact checks can be carried out.

Mental health bed
Coercive treatment to be applied more widely under new measures

This latest development comes in the wake of heightened racial tension of the last two months and alarm over the DOH’s (Department of Health) shoddy approach to the Race Impact Assessment.

“The whole ethnic minority agenda is exploding around our ears” Peter Scott Blackman, director of the Afyia Trust said at the DOH’s RIA (Race Impact Assessment) first workshop held in central London. “The Government can’t rush through legislation like this that so adversely affect the Black community without proper consultation.”

New powers within the Bill will allow officers to forcibly enter the home and detain anyone suspected of mentall illness without a warrant. With police under fire over the shooting of the innocent commuter Jean Charles de Menezes and the disproportionate use of stop and search against Black communities, health professionals believe that increased powers will be used in a racist way.

Experts are fearful that these latest developments will increase BME communities distrust of mental health services as they become increasingly coercive.

quoteAs the Bill stands it will lead to greater constraints on civil liberties and make it easier to control people. Legislation like this will disproportionately affect Black people.quote
Peter Scott Blackman, director of the Afyia Trust.

There is also concern over new powers in the Bill that will allow police to detain and refer anyone for treatment for appearing dangerous even if they are completely sane and have not committed a crime.

“This Bill needs to be rewritten because as it stands it is a dangerous document. Provisions around dangerousness should be scrapped altogether; there is an excessive imbalance against the patient. As the Bill stands it will lead to greater constraints on civil liberties and make it easier to control people. Legislation like this will disproportionately affect Black people.” Blackman added.

It precisely these issues that a RIA (Race Impact Assessment) is designed to address but senior officials were reluctant to conduct the assessment until human rights and race equality champions threatened the DOH with court action if it was not carried out.

The RIA looks at how new laws may adversely affect ethnic minorities and then consults with communities and professionals who will be working with that law. The report produced on these findings should be what establishes a starting point for new any new legislation.

quoteThe government know that any mental health legislation that is brought in will disproportionately effect Black people. These latest developments make it quite clear where they stand .quote
Professor Sashi Sashidaran

With only two months to go before Parliament reconvenes from summer recess the likely hood of robust RIA assessment is doubtful. “I can’t believe that senior civil servants did not know that they are obliged to do this as it is a requirement by law. To leave it to such a late stage means that there will be limits who we are able to consult,” a DOH official admitted. And added: “this is not a process that can be satisfactorily completed in just a couple of months because I don’t see how all the recommendations that are made in the RIA report can be taken incorporated into the Bill before it goes to the House of Commons.”

As well as a duty of Government, RIA’s are supposed to build trust in the public sector through greater transparency and public involvement. The publication of the Government’s response to a Scrutiny Committee last month decimated any remnant of trust that may have existed within the BME mental health sector.

Sidestepping findings in their own Scrutiny Committee Report, the Government opted to keep Community Treatment Orders, which allow the detention and treatment of anyone appearing dangerous. Many fear this move will lead to people becoming prisoners in their own homes.

“The clinical resources aren’t adequate to meet the demand the Bill would produce’ psychiatrist Dr Kwame McKenzie said. ‘This means that there is a real danger that the bill would just keep mental health services as the Cinderella of the health service.”

Experts are united in their call for the Bill to go back to the drawing board as it currently undermines many of the recommendations made in the Rocky Bennett Inquiry report which calls for action to reduce the numbers of Black people in secure psychiatric units.

Department of Health figures show African Caribbean people are over five times more likely to be detained in high security units and six times more likely to be sectioned than their white counterparts despite having similar rates of ill health. Black people are also far more likely to be overmedicated and forcibly restrained while in detention.

“Without a robust RIA, this Bill will exaggerate these differences that we already see in mental health services and lead to even more people going into the system,” mental health expert Professor Sashi Sashidaran said. “The government know that any mental health legislation that is brought in will disproportionately effect Black people. These latest developments make it quite clear where they stand.”

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pdf BME Needs Assessment: Diabetes and Hypertension

pdf Independent Inquiry into the death of David Bennett

pdf Draft Mental Health Bill


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hyper GUIDE to the Mental Health Act.


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Cancer Black Care

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