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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 18:49 GMT
Sister's emotional call for action
Dr Joanna Bennett
Dr Joanna Bennett said other black men had died in similar ways
The sister of mental health patient David Bennett broke down as she called for action to prevent more black men dying while in the care of the NHS.

Dr Joanna Bennett said his death, after he was restrained by staff at a clinic in Norwich, was a "total disgrace".

She said her brother was a man who had "dreams and aspirations", but was let down by those meant to be helping him.

Dr Bennett said similar deaths had happened since and lessons must be learned to prevent more in the future.

Her message was backed Helen Shaw, co-director of campaign group Inquest, who said young black men were more likely to die after being restrained in hospitals, in prisons, or by police.

Errol Francis of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, said: "Most of these death in custody occur away from the scrutiny of virtually everyone and I don't think most people can handle the idea that something racist is going on ."

'Generally ignored'

Dr Bennett, speaking after a report into the death of her 38-year-old brother criticised institutional racism in NHS mental health services, said the family struggled for 18 years to get him help.

It breaks my heart every time I think about that night and it will live with me and my family forever
Dr Joanna Bennett

Mr Bennett, from Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, was a talented footballer and musician when, at the age of 20, he first showed signs of mental health problems.

Until his death Mr Bennett, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was in and out of hospital.

His family's concerns about his treatment and the emphasis doctors placed on medication rather than other forms of help were "generally ignored", Dr Bennett said.

She also attacked the authorities responsible for an eight hour delay between the time of his death and the moment they were informed.

'Total disregard'

The report heavily criticised one nurse who told the family they could not be told the details of Mr Bennett's death because there was an inquiry.

David Bennett

"We were treated with total disregard when he died," Dr Bennett said.

Her brother died after being restrained for 25 minutes by up to five staff members.

He had punched a female member of staff after being moved to a different ward to separate him from another patient he had hit, but who later attacked Mr Bennett and racially abused him.

"Rocky died a brutal death," Dr Bennett said. "He was pinned face down on the ground by the very people who we trusted to care for him.

"It breaks my heart every time I think about that night and it will live with me and my family forever."

'Alarmingly similar'

The independent inquiry panel made more than 20 recommendations to the government, including new rules for restraint and cultural awareness training for all NHS mental health staff.

Panel chairman Sir Jon Blofeld said progress had been too slow in the past.

He added: "Black and ethnic minority citizens should not have to claim their rights, they should be given them as a matter of course."

Inquest's Helen Shaw said: "Patients have continued to die in alarmingly similar circumstances since Rocky died in 1998 and this will not stop unless the recommendations in this report are implemented in full."

The Bennett family's solicitor, Sadiq Khan, said: "What we need is an action plan, confirmation of the time scales, ministerial priorities and a committee dedicated to implementing the recommendations."

'Treated as a lesser being'
06 Feb 04  |  Health
Mental health services 'racist'
06 Feb 04  |  Health
Public inquiry into clinic death
06 Mar 03  |  England

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