Black campaigners say UK mental health services are failing

By staff writers
February 2, 2008

Churches, faith groups, racial justice campaigners and civic and community organisations need to work together more determinedly in the face of continuing serious failures in mental health provision, says Black Mental Health UK.

Commenting on the biannual report of the Mental Health Act Commission (MHAC -, entitled 'Risks, Rights and Recovery', BMH UK - which has a particular concern for the disproportionate and marginalised position of black people within the system - says the current system is failing.

Among other things, it points out, the MHAC report talks of vermin and cockroach infestation on some wards, and broken, inadequate and dirty toilet and bathroom facilities within mental health hospitals.

Alongside unsanitary conditions, BMH UK says that 37% of wards are running at 100% occupancy, and that "worryingly the problem of high rates of bed occupancy in acute wards is worse in urban areas, with London showing almost half acute wards [as] having more patients than beds."

Black mental Health UK claims: "findings have shown that the routine use of high-dose anti-psychotic medication is prevalent and that people with this diagnosis are twice as likely as the rest of the population to die prematurely."

People of African Caribbean origin are over-represented within acute psychiatric settings and disproportionately diagnosed with schizophrenia, says BMH UK. "Overmedication of patients in mental health wards continues unabated and patients have complained that nurses relied upon 'restraint medication and confinement in order to manage them."

'Risks, Rights and Recovery' says that too many NHS Trusts show "poor" evidence of fulfilling their duties under the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 (RRAA).

"We do not see the radical changes needed address the double and treble deprivation faced by minority communities who use these services. We have to see action so that racism is eliminated," Lord Herman Ouseley, former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality commented.

Pastor Desmond Hall, chair of Christians Together in Brent and one of the many church leaders Black Mental Health UK works with, said: "The services are devoid of humanity and we would be hard pushed to find those responsible for commissioning to say that they are suitable for themselves or their loved ones."

Alicia Spence, manager of the African Caribbean Mental Health Commission, added: "The Delivering Race Equality programme was supposed to produce some answers to these issue now that it is coming to an end we haven't seen any improvements."

Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK ( said: "To learn that there is an overuse of coercion, [involving] control and restraint as well as placing patients in seclusion rather than offering talking therapies, shows the failure [to develop] strategies to address the inequalities in treatment and care of black people in mental health settings."

She concluded: "The last thing we should be reading ten years after the death of David Bennett is that black patients are being routinely forcibly restrained. There needs to be a commitment from the highest level to address this situation. If the Government does not show this by allocating adequate resources to this issue, then it is clear that they really do not care."

Black Mental Health UK's corporate and individual supporters include a variety of church and faith groups, including the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance. BMH UK was founded in 2006.

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