Mental Health Bill 'biased against black patients'

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A leaked report by a Government advisory group warns that the Mental Health Bill could lead to more black and ethnic minority patients being subject to compulsory treatment.

The report also criticises ministers for not carrying out a full race-equality assessment of the impact of the Bill on patients from black and ethnic minorities, in breach of its guidelines on race.

The report, by an advisory group chaired by Rabinder Singh QC, could cast further doubt over the Bill, which is already opposed by many mental health charities.

The Department of Health (DoH) last night denied the Bill was being shelved, but Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, failed to gain a parliamentary "slot" for the legislation when she took it to the Cabinet last week.

The race equality impact assessment is required after the recommendations of the McPherson report into the killing of Stephen Lawrence in a racially motivated attack in London. But the advisory group, whose report was leaked to the Health Service Journal, expressed "concern about the lack of adequate opportunity to make changes" to the Bill.

They called on the DoH to "carry out a... race equality and impact assessment and consultation according to the Commission for Racial Equality guidance".

Last night, a spokesman for the mental health charity, Mind, said: "In its hurry to get flawed legislation through parliament, the Government appears to be ignoring its own race guidance on how to properly conduct race equality impact assessments."

But health ministers are now faced with an almost impossible balancing act, to protect the public and deal more sensitively with mentally-ill people. The Bill was drafted to tackle public alarm at the number of killings by mentally-ill patients.