Black and minority ethnic mental health service users are being discriminated against in ways that are unethical and unlawful, a health minister has admitted.

Black and minority ethnic mental health service users are being discriminated against in ways that are unethical and unlawful, a health minister has admitted.

In a letter to strategic health authority chief executives last week, Rosie Winterton said: 'The quality of mental healthcare for BME communities in England is not acceptable.

'To be blunt, services are discriminating in a way that is arguably both unethical and unlawful. Communities feel alienated from NHS services and many are deeply mistrustful of them.'

Ms Winterton also said that she was not sure enough had been done to communicate how high a priority improving services for BME users is to the Department of Health, and says this will change.

A further letter from commissioning director Duncan Selbie and national mental health director Professor Louis Appleby slams SHAs for failing to oversee the recruitment of enough community development workers.

Primary care trusts were supposed to have recruited 500 CDWs by December 2006. The roles are meant to improve relations between BME communities and services and improve access to care.

Latest available figures show that 160 were in post in January. This target has now been amended so that all 500 must be in post by December 2007, with at least 50 per cent of the total for each SHA area, or 250 nationally, in post by March 2007.

Mr Selbie and Professor Appleby warn that there will be no further funding for the task, as the CDW programme has been fully resourced.

Rethink BME initiatives manager and co-chair of the BME mental health network Claire Felix said such funding must be ringfenced.

'We are really pleased that the minister has taken such a strong stand on this but chief executives must be held accountable.

'We have warned the DoH that the Delivering Race Equalityagenda needs to be linked to targets,' she said.

The letter comes ahead of the publication of figures which are expected to show the disproportionate number of BME users using specialist mental health services. The Healthcare Commission carried out its second 'Count Me In' annual census of mental health inpatient populations earlier this year and Ms Winterton said SHAs should expect the 2006 findings to 'reaffirm the scale and severity of the problem'.

The findings are likely to be published in early December.