The Department of Health has been found to have failed in its race equality duties and accused of being ‘obstructive’ to a Commission for Racial Equality probe.

A formal CRE investigation has reached a damning verdict on the DoH’s application of its race obligations to policy-making.

The draft report, seen by HSJ, said the department failed in its race equality duties in the development of the Mental Health Bill, the independence, well-being and choice proposals the white paper Our health, Our Care, Our Say.

A source close to the CRE said: ‘Last week 15 government departments were named and shamed but at the top of the list was the DoH.’

The DoH had ‘been obstructive at every stage of this investigation’ and was ‘letting down our ethnic minority communities’.

Another source warned the department could face a fuller investigation from the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which has a legal obligation to take on the work of the CRE, and greater investigative powers.

He said the DoH was making the ‘right noises’ but that nothing was being done, due to ‘institutional complacency’.

‘They still don’t think they have done anything wrong. The CRE wanted to take a collaborative approach to this investigation and take it as read they would want to fix what was wrong but they have been so defensive, trying to cover it up rather than address the issues.’

The review was triggered by the DoH’s failure to carry out race equality impact assessments on its proposed policies despite repeated requests to do so by the commission.

The report acknowledges an assessment was carried out on the Mental Health Bill but found it to be severely lacking. Criticisms included absence of service-specific data, lack of monitoring of existing processes and those proposed by legislation and failure to identify appropriate responses to adverse impact.

The report recommends the DoH draws up plans to monitor the implementation of the amended Mental Health Bill for its impact on race equality, publishes the result and keeps the new CEHR informed.

The report acknowledges DoH efforts to involve different communities in developing Our Health, Our Care Our Say but it raises concerns about the approach.

It recommends the department revises its in-house advice regarding race impact assessments and the role of pilot projects which were not developed with race equality in mind; and that it undertakes appropriate assessments in this policy area, and reports to the new commission.

The failures were highlighted following two years of monitoring of central government departments by the Commission.

The DoH does not agree with the report’s findings. A spokesperson said: ‘We take race equality extremely seriously at the department.

‘We do not agree with many of the conclusions in this draft report and have written to the commission asking them to ensure that the published report gives a fairer representation of the facts.’

The CEHR will be taking over from the CRE, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission on Monday.

To read the editor’s comment on the DoH’s equality obligations, click here