EXCLUSIVE DoH's advisory group hits out over lack of BME assessment for draft legislation

Published: 01/12/2005 Volume 115 No. 5984 Page 9

The government has come under fire from its own advisers over its failure to assess the impact of the draft Mental Health Bill on people from black and ethnic minorities.

HSJ has obtained a copy of a report by the Department of Health's advisory group, set up to advise the government in the light of its legal duty under the Race Relations Amendment Act to conduct a race equality impact assessment on all new legislation.

In it, the advisory group:

attacks the government's lack of a full assessment of the bill;

suggests that current draft legislation would increase the likelihood of BME individuals being subject to compulsory treatment;

calls for more consultation with service users.

The advisory group, set up in March after the government's parliamentary scrutiny committee - chaired by Rabinder Singh QC - reported its findings, makes 24 recommendations, many of which reflect concerns already raised by opponents of the bill.

Its report, written last month and due to be published when the bill is introduced to parliament, calls on the DoH to 'carry out a full and proper race equality and impact assessment and consultation according to the Commission for Racial Equality guidance'.

It warns that such an assessment should have been carried out earlier and expresses 'concern about the lack of adequate opportunity to make changes' at this stage.

The report calls for a narrowing of the definition of mental disorder.

It says: 'We are concerned that the definition is too broad, and that the effect will be that more people from BME groups are captured by it.' It also expresses concern that the relevant conditions under which compulsion is deemed appropriate are 'too loose' while the definition of treatment is 'too wide'.

The advisers cite research showing the increased likelihood of BME individuals being diagnosed as psychotic. It says that 'given that certain BME groups may be less likely to consent to treatment, there is a probability that there will be disparities in the use of the act'.

The report concludes that the much wider definition of mental illness, coupled with the provision to detain people for appearing dangerous, the increase in police powers of detention and a lack of safeguards around medication will worsen racial inequalities.