In response to requests from staff to find out more about the cultures, customs and practices of their patients, West London Mental Health trust has produced a cultural competency toolkit.

The toolkit was devised by the trust's diversity lead for services Bernie Collins with support from diversity lead for employment Maggie Fordjour and chaplaincy team leader Reverend Derek Barnes. It was drawn up with input from ethnic minority community leaders, health workers and people from black and ethnic minority communities.

The main aim of the pack is to support clinicians and non-clinical staff in improving the care and services delivered to the trust's diverse patient population. West London has one of the most varied populations in the country and the information pack was a response to the need for special attention to be paid to how mental health services are provided to the trust's black and ethnic minority communities.

The initiative was so successful that it won the diversity and equality award and the overall winner category in the annual Healthcare People Management Association awards.

Cultural awareness

According to Mr Collins, the toolkit idea came about at the end of 2004, at a time when the trust had grown very large as an organisation and staff from various disciplines were requesting information about cultures and practices to assist in their understanding and in the delivery of culturally appropriate and sensitive services.

'Parts of the work had already been done, but we pulled it all together to make it relevant for our patients and staff,' said Mr Collins. 'Derek was a huge help in making sure we reflected the different religious observances and sensitivities.'

Feedback from staff has been extremely positive. They report that the toolkit is not only readable but innovative and relevant.

The guide was not designed as a one-size-fits-all tool but as a reference guide summarising the major facts for each ethnic group that are relevant to healthcare

The document provides a broad historical overview on the patterns of migration of African, Asian, Caribbean, Eastern European and refugee and asylum communities. It identifies the distribution of minority groups across England and Wales and the ethnic population of the three main catchment areas of Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham and Hounslow.

The other sections of the toolkit include terminologies, cultures and customs, dos and don'ts, religious practices and festivals. It also provides a steer on areas for clinical audit and improvement of services.