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Government to overhaul mental health services for ethnic minorities

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 23 October 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:950
  1. Debashis Singh
  1. London

    The government has launched a major overhaul of mental health services for ethnic minorities with the publication of a consultation paper.

    The three month consultation with voluntary groups, the health service, and local communities will be the first step in what may be the most radical attempt to address problems of inequality in the mental health service. Under the plans the government will set up at least 80 community based mental health projects across England. These projects will recruit a new workforce of 500 paid staff to work with people from ethnic minorities to increase their engagement with mental health services.

    The plans for consultation come after repeated criticism of standards of care and a series of high profile scandals and before two inquiries into the deaths of black and Asian people with mental health problems. Both reports are expected to be severely critical of the services.

    Surveys, such as the department of health's National Survey of NHS patients (2001), have shown that ethnic minorities express lower satisfaction with the health service than the general population.

    Black people make up 30% of patients in medium secure mental health facilities and 16% in high secure facilities. They are six times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act. UK women of south Asian descent who were born in India or east Africa have a 40% higher suicide rate than women born in England and Wales.

    The government's plans have been drawn up by Kamlesh Patel, head of the Mental Health Act Commission and director of the centre of ethnicity and health at the University of Central Lancashire.

    Nine black or Asian regional leaders will be appointed to lead the reform programme. They will oversee the development of community projects on a model pioneered successfully in a drive against drugs in the ethnic minority population. The Department of Health is already committed to the employment of 500 community development workers by 2006.

    Rosie Winterton, the minister responsible for mental health, said, “Delivering race equality and better community relations is vital to this government. This consultation will help to deliver better quality and more intelligently used information, more appropriate and responsive services, and more effective engagement with black and minority ethnic communities in mental health.”

    Trevor Philips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, supported the consultation process. He said, “There is an abundance of evidence to show that inequalities exist among ethnic minority communities both in service delivery and provision. Action is needed to ensure that services are acceptable, adequate, and appropriate to the needsof all users and reflecting their diverse needs.”

    The consultation document, Delivering Race Equality: A Framework for Action, is available at

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