Row intensifies over disproportionate rate black people detained in psychiatric units

THE row over the vastly disproportionate rate that black people are detained in psychiatric units intensified yesterday after the release of figures indicating no improvement since the government vowed to tackle the problem three years ago.

Black and ethnic minority people are up to five times more likely to be admitted and three times more likely to be compulsory detained than white people, the Healthcare Commission reported.

This is the same rate as 2005, the year ministers launched a five-year action plan detailing how the government planned to root out anti-discriminatory practice in mental health care.

While care services minister Phil Hope said he believed progress has been made campaigners said racial discrimination is still “entrenched” in mental health services.

Mr Hope said: “Mental health services still need to do more to meet the needs of diverse communities and tackle inequalities in mental health.

“Our Delivering Race Equality action plan, supported by over 400 new community development workers across the country, has already helped to deliver progress and remains the blueprint for services to follow.”

But Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer said: “Three years into the Delivering Race Equality programme, it’s unacceptable that the government appears no closer to providing a fair and equal experience of mental health care to people of all races.”

But some researchers argue racism is not the main cause for the disproportionate rates of admission and detention.

In 2006 professors Swaran Singh and Tom Burns argued in the British Medical Journal that the disproportionate rate may be due more to the social exclusion and low socio-economic standing of black and ethnic minority people.

They said evidence showed that rates of psychiatric disorder are high for all migrants, irrespective of ethnicity.

Campaigners were also furious that the commission’s Count Me In census found 68% of psychiatric inpatients not being on single-sex wards. They are particularly concerned about vulnerable female patients sharing wards with male patients.

Mr Farmer said: “The NHS is allowing some of our most vulnerable patients to be treated in some of its most hostile care environments, and people who are in most need of support are left living in fear.”

But Mr Hope said around 75% of mental health beds are in single-sex ward areas, but it was often lounge areas that were not.

“We have called on PCTs to agree and publish challenging plans for improvement,” he said.

The fourth Count Me In annual census was held on March 31 and collected information on 31,020 mental health and learning disability inpatients in 255 NHS and independent providers in England and Wales.

Read for yourself: Count Me In Census 2008

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