Ministers 'suppressed' damning race report

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Indy Politics

The author of a damning report, which brands mental health services institutionally racist, has accused the Government of trying to suppress its findings.

Professor Sashi Sashidharan, a senior psychiatrist and member of the Government's Mental Health Task Force, said ministers also rejected his proposal of setting up NHS targets for treating black and ethnic-minority patients.

"The original report had specific targets and these were removed," said Professor Sashidharan, medical director of North Birmingham Mental Health Trust. "This was not circulated widely. It was put on the website. There was an attempt to try to suppress it. People only heard about it by word of mouth, even those involved in this line of work. This is a report that will sit on someone's shelf, which makes me feel dismayed and angry."

The plight of black people caught up in the mental health system was thrown into sharp focus last week when Frank Bruno was sectioned under the Mental Health Act over concerns for his wellbeing.

The Conservatives are now calling for an independent inquiry into ethnic-minority care following the publication of Professor Sashidharan's study, called Inside Outside.

"It is unacceptable that the Government is so badly neglecting the mental health needs of ethnic communities," said Liam Fox, shadow health secretary. "In the words of the report, 'Patients from all ethnic minority groups are more likely than white majority patients to be misunderstood and misdiagnosed.' This is a betrayal of our most vulnerable communities."

Professor Sashidharan was appointed to chair a panel of experts who were commissioned by the Department of Health to produce the first Government-backed study carried out into the state of mental health services for black and minority people. Published in April, the findings were damning. The report concluded that mental health services were institutionally racist, that the whole issue of ethnicity within mental health services had become marginalised or even ignored and that these problems were getting worse.

Inside Outside also revealed that mentally distressed black people are more likely to be locked away, that rates of compulsory admission are markedly higher and that black and minority patients are more likely than white people to be assessed as requiring greater degrees of supervision, control and security.

Turning Point, the social care organisation, said that black people received "culturally insensitive" treatment. "Stereotypes influence the diagnosis and treatment which people receive, leading to lack of access to appropriate assessment, treatment and care," said Lord Adebowale, Turning Point's chief executive. "The draft Mental Health Bill further increases the possible abuse of powers enabled under the current Act in terms of the black and ethnic-minority population."

In a statement, the Department of Health said it acknowledged that services for black people and ethnic minorities need to improve. It said that ministers would publish a consultation paper next month, setting out a new plan to improve race equality in mental health services.

* The Mental Health Alliance will attend this year's Labour Party conference to urge the Government to radically alter the draft Mental Health Bill.