Mrs.UK: Racism census for mental health care

Inspectors to check on private and NHS hospitals

The first census of mental health units to establish the extent of discrimination against black and minority ethnic patients will be carried out throughout the NHS and private hospitals in England and Wales tomorrow.

Health inspectors will look into the ethnic and religious characteristics of all in-patients and their experience of seclusion or injury while on hospital premises.

The Count Me In census follows allegations of institutional racism in mental health services made last year by Sir John Blofeld, a retired high court judge, after an investigation into the death of David "Rocky" Bennett.

Mr Bennett, a 38-year-old Jamaican-born Rastafarian, died in Norwich in 1998 after being held face down on the floor for 28 minutes by at least four mental health nurses.

The judge blamed the Department of Health for the poor standard of treatment, describing the problem as a "festering abscess" and a "blot on the good name of the NHS".

Ministers acknowledged that people from black and minority ethnic communities were less likely to come forward voluntarily for mental health treatment, more likely to stay longer as in-patients and more likely to be prescribed medication or electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) instead of psychological treatment.

Sample surveys suggested that young Afro-Caribbean men were between two and eight times more likely than their white contemporaries to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The census will establish more precise statistics.

The results will be used to help assess whether government policies to reduce discrimination have any effect. The government has promised to reduce the disproportionate rates of admission, compulsory detention and seclusion of black and minority ethnic patients.

Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission, said: "Currently poor monitoring of ethnicity means healthcare providers are not always getting it right when it comes to this patient group."

Louis Appleby, the mental health tsar, said: "We welcome this as an essential part of our aim to eliminate inequalities."

Cliff Prior, chief executive of the mental health charity Rethink, said: "We know that black and minority ethnic users of mental health services get the worst possible deal - over-medicated and over-represented in secure settings and under-represented in decision-making bodies.

"The census will provide accurate information on people's experiences and help the government identify the areas of radical change that are needed to make mental health services accessible to everyone in need."

John Carvel, social affairs editor Wednesday March 30, 2005 ©The Guardian

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