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Mr. Hawkins: How does it assist the Home Secretary's message if law-abiding members of the public see that, under his proposals, large-scale suppliers of cannabis may face only 12 months in custody, instead of eight years, as at present?
Mr. Ainsworth: The Home Secretary is not trying to bounce anybody into anything. We now have a period in which hon. Members and people outside the House can discuss all the ramifications of what he said and come to a conclusion, and the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman will be part of that process.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) made a high-quality contribution, as usual. Like me, he has a significant constituency problem, and I am sure that that is true of many other hon. Members. My hon. Friend urged us to consider, among other things, the availability of heroin prescription. The Home Secretary has said that we want to reconsider the guidelines on heroin prescription, which say at the moment that heroin should not be prescribed unless the doctor concerned has considerable experience of doing so. We want to make absolutely sure that our policy is correct, and that doctors feel able to prescribe heroin where that is appropriate.
I must point out to my hon. Friend that we have not moved away from heroin prescription as a matter of political policy; there has been a move by GPs out in the field towards prescribing methadone. We anticipate that methadone will continue to be the main drug of choice used by GPs in dealing with heroin addicts. However, we want to consider the matter because we feel that a lack of confidence may lie behind the reluctance to prescribe heroin. If the guidance can be clarified, that can only be to the good.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) made points that must be taken up. He described the problems that care homes are facing. I know that he has a number of contacts and a great deal of credibility in that sector, so perhaps he can assist us in considering those problems. I am told by the Department of Health that it has repeatedly consulted on its proposals for care homes, and tried to get the owners to gather evidence so that it can seriously consider their claims. Perhaps my hon. Friend and I can help in that process, so that any decision is evidence-based and its likely consequences are considered.
Mrs. Helen Clark (Peterborough): I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this important subject. I became involved in it due to the tragic death of a constituent who was a patient in the Norvic secure unit in Norwich. I should like to acknowledge the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) in pursuing the case and the issues it raises.
David Bennett"Rocky" as he was known to his friends and familywas certified dead in the early hours of Saturday 31 October 1998, after being restrained and held down by at least three, possibly five, staff for 25 minutes.
David's sister, Dr. Joanna Bennetta lecturer in mental healthher legal representatives from the organisation Inquest, my hon. Friend and I have had a series of meetings with Ministers and officials at the Department of Health in the past three years, the most recent of which was held this September.
We have consistently stressed the need for a public inquiry as the most appropriate means to investigate all the circumstances of David's death in a way that will highlight the more general issues and the occurrence of similar cases in the mental health services.
The Minister was generous with her time and listened sympathetically. In her subsequent letter, she confirmed a number of the steps that the Department will take, offering Dr. Bennett considerable input into an inquiry, which will have a broad remit but will not be a full public inquiry. Only parts of the inquiry will be public, over which the chairman will have discretion.
Although grateful for such progress as has been made, David's family, through their representatives, have expressed a number of reservations about those proposals, especially about which issues will be heard in public. They naturally think, as I do, that racism should be one of them, as should be the use of control and restraint. There are other concerns about the membership of the inquiry panel; how the results of the inquiry will be made public; and how they will be fed into future policy and practice.
Dr. Bennett has also stated her concern that the black and minority ethnic mental health strategy lacks definition, especially in its use of terms such as "culturally appropriate non-drug therapy" or "culturally sensitive". Such terms are hard to put into practice and do not therefore lead to real changes for service users. The strategy group has not adequately consulted black service users, providers and families, and so may be unsupported by key stakeholders.
An inquest into David's death was finally held in May this year, and it returned a verdict of accidental death, aggravated by neglect. The coroner, William Armstronga specialist in mental healthtook great pains to ensure that the circumstances surrounding David's death were explored in depth and made public a number of recommendations that he felt the whole NHS should take on board.
Of particular relevance to this debate is the fact that he stated that many NHS trusts do not take racism seriously and that all trusts should have a written and active policy on dealing with racial abuse, which the Norwich trust has now addressed.
It has been established that David was racially abused by other patients on several occasions before the incident that caused his deaththere was no indication of that being addressed by staffand that he wrote a letter to the ward manager suggesting that more black staff should be employed at the clinic, as there was a significant number of black patients. He complained to the family that he felt he was being treated unfairly because he was black, and he told staff that he felt white people were treated better.
The trust's internal inquiry identified a case in which a member of staff had racially abused another patient, and an incident of racial abuse against Rocky by another patient started the chain of events that resulted in his death.
The recommendations following the inquest reflect many of those following previous inquests and inquiries. For example, 10 years ago, following the inquiry into the deaths of three other black men at Broadmoor hospital, similar recommendations regarding medication, the use of restraint and racism were made.
The organisation Inquest has drawn national and international attention to the disproportionate number of deaths of black people in custody following the use of force or gross medical neglect. Following deaths in police and prison custody, there have been detailed coroners' recommendations on the use of restraint and the dangers of positional asphyxia, yet prone restraint continues to be used in other settings, including psychiatric settings, without regard to the potential dangers.
I am grateful to MIND for the information in a 1997 study called "The Black Experience of Detention under the Civil Sections of the Mental Health Act". It shows that more than 75 per cent. of professionals from all agencies interviewed felt that black clients were more likely than white clients to be perceived as dangerous, and black patients were twice as likely as white patients to be detained on a longer section 3 order. White patients were more likely to be on the shorter section 2 orders.
The research also showed that 85 per cent. of black people were being given medication, compared with 72 per cent. of the white group; 61 per cent. of the black group were being given at least two types of drug,
I understand that evidence of racial inequality in mental health services has been available for 20 or even 30 years. All this together shows that black people are more likely than whites to be removed by the police to a place of safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983; retained in hospital under sections 2,3 and 4 of the Act; diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia or another form of psychotic illness; detained in locked wards of psychiatric hospitals; and given higher doses of medication.
The research also shows that black people are less likely than white people to receive appropriate and acceptable diagnosis of, or treatment for, possible mental illness at an early stage, and to receive treatments such as psychotherapy or counselling.
There is no legal requirement to report sudden deaths in custody to a central body, but I am told that in the past 10 years there have been at least 12 cases of black people with diagnosed mental health problems who have died in this tragic way12 lives lost which, with more appropriate treatment in the widest sense, might have been saved.
Last year the Health Committee report on the provision of mental health services made the following recommendations. The Department of Health's requirement that all NHS trust boards should undertake training on management of diversity should be expanded, so that all front-line NHS staff receive training on race awareness. All educational bodies providing pre- qualification training to health professionals should be required to include training on cultural and racial issues as part of their curriculum. All NHS trusts should designate a board member to take the lead on issues of race and culture within their trust and to ensure that active policies are in place to champion the needs of the ethnic minority groups in their areas. The Department of Health should ensure that trusts have access to a comprehensive network of interpreting services, if necessary providing grants to the voluntary sector to enable the services to be developed. Priority should be given to early intervention services, such as providing easy access to counselling.
The Health Committee believes that it is crucial that users and carers are involved in all aspects of service delivery, and that user involvement in setting the outcomes that services aim to achieve should be central to service planning. As that would be a new way of working for many professionals, the Committee recommends that both pre-and post-qualification training of all health and social care professionals should include structured input from users as part of the national programme.
All mental health service providers need to acknowledge the importance of social factors, including race. They need to understand how what MIND calls "mental distress" is differently experienced and expressed in different cultures, and that prevailing white, western concepts are not always appropriate to understanding the behaviour of patients.
A national expert on ethnicity and mental health, Professor Sashidharan of Birmingham university, has consistently demonstrated the need to tackle inequalities in mental health services. In his paper on institutional racism in British psychiatry, he says that
I am aware that I am skating over many topics that require detailed consideration, but time is short, so today I have focused on the extent and the seriousness of the problems that policy makers and practitioners must resolve if they are to end the pernicious effects of racism in mental health policy and practice. It is because those problems are so pervasive and so serious that the Bennett family and those of us who have worked with them continue to say that a full public inquiry is the best way in which to collect and examine the evidence and arrive at proper evidence-based recommendations for future policy and practice, which can then be implemented nationwide.