A developing community mental healthcare role is improving access for diverse groups, says Louis Appleby

Providing good mental healthcare for a culturally diverse society remains a top policy priority. The government’s Delivering Race Equality campaign, a Care Services Improvement Partnership national programme, contains 78 steps based on three building blocks, and is backed by significant resources.

We know there is impressive work around the country to deliver the campaign – the 17 focused implementation sites, 80 community engagement projects and community development workers are all starting to see real results.

Community development workers play a key role in increasing community engagement by supporting the development and exchange of information, knowledge and skills between mental health services and the communities they serve.

The role of the workers varies according to the needs of the local community, but the four key functions are: change agent who identifies gaps and develops innovative practice; service developer who promotes joint working, education and training; capacity builder; and access facilitator to services, community resources and overcoming language and cultural barriers.

We already have more than 200 community development workers in post and our goal is 500 by the end of this year. Primary care trusts have£16m a year to fund this recruitment.

But the role of these workers goes beyond simply being a connection between black and minority ethnic communities and mental health services. They are helping to improve the experience of people from BME groups when they access mental health services. They are helping reform these services – bridging the gap between the care offerings and the needs, values and norms of the communities.

Beyond this, they are helping direct community groups more effectively to information, development opportunities, and resources and funding.

We know these workers are starting to make a difference. Take the community engagement project in Hampshire that is running an innovative befriending scheme for BME patients, drawing on the skills of service users, carers and volunteers to help people rebuild their lives.

In Dorset and Somerset, the focused implementation site has set up a groundbreaking web resource, giving staff and isolated BME communities accessible information about mental health services, culture and faith.

In South Yorkshire, the the focused implementation site has established a successful programme improving clinicians’ knowledge about Muslim patients.

As the number of community development workers in post continues to rise, we expect these good practice examples to increase as the distance between BME communities and mental health services lessens.