Improving access to services for minority ethnic communities: Raghu Raghavan examines the changes needed to provide appropriate care for people from ethnically diverse backgrounds

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Date: Sept. 2009
From: Learning Disability Practice(Vol. 12, Issue 7)
Publisher: Royal College of Nursing Publishing Company (RCN)
Document Type: Report
Length: 3,036 words

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This article explores ethnicity, cultural diversity and learning disability, focusing on the key issues and barriers for access and use of services. It highlights the need for all staff to develop cultural competence to ensure that services are able to meet the diverse needs of individuals and their families and carers.


Learning disabilities, minority ethnic communities, access to services, cultural competence


LAST YFAR, at an international conference on learning disability, a participant asked me about some of the issues on ethnicity and learning disability 1 had covered in a paper. 1 was sitting with a group of researchers and practitioners from England, one of whom asked whether those present had people from black and minority ethnic (RMH) communities in their areas. One said: 'We do not have any where we are. Hence, we do not bother about the BME issues in our locality. (1)

I was shocked by this response. Do we only have to be aware of cultural issues if there are BME people in our locality? It appears that in some cases ethnicity and diversity agendas are added on to fit with policy, rather then being seen as integral part of service and workforce development.

We live in a society that is increasingly culturally diverse. In this context, our ethnic identity plays an important role in terms of our beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. All human beings have an ethnic identity, but often when we talk about ethnicity or cultural diversity we do not think of our own ethnicity but tend to think about people with different skin colours, cultures or religions to our own.

The term 'ethnic minorities' is used by most service providers, but its use has been criticised, notably by Ratcliffe (2004), who states that this may be insulting to the people it is applied to because it implies that only 'minorities' have an ethnicity.

The Valuing People white paper (Department of Health (DH) 2001) says the needs of people from BME communities with learning disabilities are often overlooked and therefore that these people face social exclusion. In the same year the DH published a report on learning difficulties and ethnicity--a scoping study of services for people with learning disabilities from minority ethnic communities (Mir et al 2001). This suggests that people with learning disabilities from BME communities face substantial inequalities and discrimination in health and social care. This message is reiterated in the government's Annual Report on Learning Disability (DH 2005).

To solve the difficulties faced by these people the Learning Disability Task Force published a guide called Learning Disability and Ethnicity: A Framework for Action (Valuing People Support Team/DH 2004). This was intended to help the Learning Disability Partnership Boards and services to include people with learning disabilities from BME communities in service planning. In addition to these policy guidelines, this period also witnessed a number of publications in scientific and professional journals about the unmet needs of people with learning disabilities and their families from BME communities (Emerson and Robertson 2002,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A209096114