integrationNew guidance for NHS commissioners has been launched, with the aim of improving mental health services for people from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities.

Guidance for commissioners of mental health services for people from black and minority ethnic communities has been produced by the Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health (, a group of organisations aiming to inform high-quality mental health and learning disability commissioning in England. The group is co-chaired by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

The guidance is aimed at NHS commissioners – the organisations which plan and pay for services to meet the needs of local people. It provides a ‘blueprint’ for reducing ethnic inequalities in mental health – enhancing community wellbeing and providing better access to services to provide rapid treatment and specialised care when needed. This includes reducing the risk of having to force people to have treatment.

Research over the past 50 years has shown many BME communities have more adverse experiences and negative outcomes when receiving mental health care than other service users.

The guidance further describes how culturally appropriate care can be delivered through specialist services for particular ethnic groups, while retaining and building the relevant knowledge and skills that should exist in all services. 

If the guidance is followed these steps will mean that mainstream care will help attend to the cultural, religious and ethnic needs of people with mental health problems.  This will help reduce ethnic inequalities in mental health care.

Progressive projects

The guidance was launched at a conference hosted by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) on July 4. The Trust was chosen to host the event because one of its two projects is cited in the guidance as ‘what a good mental health service looks like’.

The projects – 300 Voices and The Revolving Door – use the experience of young men and women from BME communities who have experienced poor mental health to feedback and inform the Trust, the police and social workers on how to improve local services.

Trust chief executive John Short said: “The West Midlands is wonderfully diverse part of the country which is celebrated both across the region and across the Trust. However, while the proportion of BME communities in the population has increased significantly in many urban areas, this has not always resulted in appropriate adaptation of local mental health services to address the needs of an ethnically and culturally diverse population. Now is the opportunity to address this imbalance.”

Co-author of the guide, Dr Sashi Sashidharan, said: “Good commissioning understands the mental health needs of BME communities and their variable experiences of local mental health systems. It also recognises that organisational culture and structural forces in the public sector and society in general can act as barriers to overcoming the health inequalities that face these communities.”

Dr Neil Deuchar, co-chair of the Joint Commissioning Panel, and director of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Commissioning Centre, said: “Every commissioner needs to understand the mental health needs of BME communities, and their experience of the local mental health system. 

“They also need to recognise that the organisational culture and structure of NHS care can act as a barrier to overcoming health inequalities among BME groups.”