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Psychiatrist claims proof of racism in mental health care suppressed.

Byline: Campbell Docherty

A senior Birmingham psychiatrist has accused the Government of suppressing his report detailing institutional racism in mental health care.

Professor Sashi Sashidharan, a member of the Government's Mental Health Task Force, said Ministers also rejected his proposal of setting up NHS targets intended to give a fairer balance to the way black and ethnic minority patients are treated.

Prof Sashidharan's report, Inside Out, was published earlier this year and its findings were expected to be adopted by the Government.

However, Prof Sashidharan said he now believed the Government would produce a 'seriously diluted' consultation paper.

'The original report had specific targets and these were removed,' said Prof Sashidharan, medical director of North Birmingham Mental Health Trust which is now the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS 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.'

He added: 'Our report highlighted the discrepancies black and white people face in the usage of services and the outcome of interventions. In short, their experience tends to be much more negative.

'We recommended a whole raft of targets to make care more consistent, including addressing the fact that black people are six times more likely to be admitted under the Mental Health Act than white people. However, when the Government produce their consultation paper, I expect these to be seriously diluted.'

The plight of black people caught up in the mental health system was spotlighted last week when boxer Frank Bruno was sectioned under the Mental Health Act over concerns for his well-being.

The Conservatives are now calling for an independent inquiry into ethnic minority care following the publication of Inside Outside. 'It is unacceptable that the Government is so badly neglecting the mental health needs of ethnic communities,' said Dr Liam Fox, shadow Health Secretary.

Prof Sashidharan was appointed to chair a panel of experts commissioned by the Department of Health to produce the first Government-backed study into the state of mental health services for black and minority people.

The damning report, published in April, 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.

In a statement, the Department of Health said it acknowledged services for black people and ethnic minorities need to improve. Ministers would publish a consultation paper next month, setting out a new plan to improve race equality in mental health services.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 30, 2003
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