SENIOR LEADERS of NHS trusts and public bodies have backed the UK’s “first national pledge” to reduce ethnic inequalities in mental health care, and transform medical systems to be “less institutionally racist”.
Spearheaded by the national initiative Synergi Collaborative Centre, the pledge — a “Statement of Intent” – was launched on Wednesday (5) in response to the lack of progress made over three decades in tackling the disproportionate mental health risks faced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.
The pledge called on CEOs and directors of NHS mental health trusts and public bodies to initiate fundamental service-level changes to reduce racial inequalities in access, experience and outcomes.
It also stressed on “national leadership on this critical issue”, and the need to increase work in partnership with BAME groups, service users and community agencies.
At least 30 initial signatories to the pledge also agreed on the importance of support to “timely and progressive research and policy development”.
Kamaldeep Bhui, professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: “I’m delighted as director of the to launch this powerful alliance between the NHS, local government, charity providers and BAME community groups in a national movement to transform mental health systems to be less institutionally racist, more enabling, thoughtful and inclusive; one that respects the workforce and acknowledges that all people need health care in the NHS.”
He added that the UK was witnessing “a moment in which the defensiveness and disguises for racism have fallen away”.
“Yet, this moment will pass, if we are not mindful, meaning that the usual practices will re-establish themselves to further compound and sustain racial disparities in health,” Bhui said.
The initiative received solid support from several health leaders.
Dr Sara Munro, chief executive of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said she was “proud” to sign the pledge as there was a need to tackle healthcare inequalities — “now, more than ever”.
“I know that, together, we can make a meaningful difference to the lives of people from BAME communities who are experiencing mental health issues, and I join my health and care partners in pledging my commitment and support,” she said.
Warren Heppolette, executive lead for strategy and system development at Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership, said her organisation wished to “send out an unequivocal message, through this pledge, that we fully commit to supporting the elimination of ethnic inequalities in our mental health system”.
The Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust’s chief executive Roisin Fallon-Williams and medical director Dr Hilary Grant said in a joint statement that they already had “plenty of information to evidence that discrimination and inequalities exist”.
“We know our BAME colleagues are less likely to gain promotions, and our BAME service users are more likely to be subject to Mental Health Act detentions, restraint and seclusion,” they rued.
“Discrimination is complex and multi-faceted, but this is not a reason not to act now to address it. We cannot be silent on this. Our silence is complicity. It’s time for us to truly live up to our values, to act and make a change.”