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Interview: Prof. Kamlesh Patel
He has gained international recognition for addressing inequality in the health and social care sectors. With his appointment to the House of Lords he gets a larger platform to assert his ideas.
PROF. KAMLESH PATEL is a widely recognised figure in the field of ethnicity and mental health services in the UK. He heads the Centre for Ethnicity and Health at the University of Central Lancashire. Recently, he was appointed as a non-party political member to the House of Lords. He has helped the UK government implement many mental health programmes for the people of colour and ethnic minorities.
Prof. Patel gave an exclusive interview to Asha Dey of merinews and talked about not only his recent achievement but also his past accomplishments.
You have mostly been associated with academic and social work, but now with your appointment to the House of Lords you have to participate in political process of the UK as well. How have you equipped yourself to take up this new challenge?
Through my work in the areas of substance misuse and mental health – particularly over the last 10 years – I have been actively involved in working directly with senior civil servants and ministers from all political parties. I have initiated and led many policy changes and addressed a number of legislative matters, therefore, I have had a lot of experience of the UK political system. I am also familiar with the work of the House of Lords, though, I am sure, I will have a lot to learn and am looking forward to learning and meeting the many new challenges that will undoubtedly surface. I am also fortunate to know some existing peers who are very supportive and I am sure will provide advice and guidance when needed.
Of late, the Indian community in the USA and the UK has gained financial, and therefore political, prominence. Do you think that your nomination is a political move, which indirectly addresses political clout of the Indian community in the UK, or is it purely based on your work for ethnic minorities?
I would very much hope that my appointment is based on the merits of the work that I have undertaken over the last 20 years or so, not only in relation to minority ethnic communities and issues of equality and human rights, but also my general contribution to developing policy and practice in the areas of substance misuse, mental health, crime and the health and social care arena. 
You have also worked extensively with the people of colour and other ethnic minorities. How have these – that is, non-Indian ethnic minorities in the UK – responded to your appointment?
I have had many messages of congratulations from across the country and from people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Much of the work I have undertaken aims to involve people across all ethnic groups and focus on those who are most vulnerable in society.
Have you been involved with any social work or project with India so far?
Not directly in or with India, however, over the years I have advised a number of researchers and officials, who have visited the UK around issues of illegal drug use, HIV/AIDS and service development in these areas.
Whenever a person of Indian origin is assigned an important post in a Western country there is a lot of hype about it in India. Do you think that your appointment will make you more important for the Indian administration or NGOs? Do you see yourself engaging more with Indian policymakers and health professionals now?
If my appointment can contribute and if my skills and experiences are relevant to the further development of any NGO or other Indian organisations I would only be too happy to help. I have, over the years, been a member of many NGOs, community groups and organisations that have worked with a wide range of South Asian communities in the UK.
Since you have addressed inequality and bias in the health and social care field, the proponents of the unequal system must have been unhappy with you. How have these people responded to your new appointment?
Racism and discrimination exist everywhere. One has to constantly and constructively challenge and debate these issues and sometimes rise beyond the potential destructive effect they have on communities and society. Throughout my personal and professional life I have attempted to challenge those who are supporters of an unequal and unjust system. They have remained very quiet about my new appointment!
My feeling is that you have been working with the same social groups as Mahatma Gandhi worked with in South Africa. He fought for the cause of Indians, and, at the same time, supported the people of colour in their struggle against racism. Then, is there an influence of Gandhian philosophy in your ideas as well? Have you been in touch with other Gandhians, who may have influenced your work ethics? (In case my feeling is wrong I will like to know who or what influenced your ideas.)
Mahatma Gandhi was undoubtedly a great man and someone who has left a legacy for all of us to follow. I am not sure that I have consciously been influenced by the Gandhian philosophy, but it is true that the majority of my work involves working with and fighting for the most vulnerable people in society, so that there can be a fairer and just society, which makes a person’s ethnicity, culture or religious beliefs irrelevant.
After 9/11 we have seen a lot of distrust against Muslims in the USA, and there are indications of this trend being present in Europe as well, including the UK. Do you think that this trend has contributed towards any peculiarity in the mental health of the Muslims and other minorities living in the country?
9/11, and more recently 7/7 (the bombings in London), have had a major impact not only on Muslims but all minority ethnic communities. I believe we have not yet seen the full impact of these terrible atrocities. Daily direct and indirect discrimination, fear, mistrust and unjustifiable retribution do and will effect people’s mental health. Many South Asian people not only in the UK but also across Europe will be feeling anxious about these developments and the potential repercussions. These issues combined with the growing inequality in education, healthcare and employment all have the potential to detrimentally impact the mental health of our people.
Can you elaborate on a few projects that you have undertaken based on models of community engagement and organisational change?
I have developed two models that have had considerable impact on the health and social care field in England. A model for engagement with communities that enables them to be actively involved in the design and delivery of services that are offered to them; and a model of organisational change that assists organisations to work with diverse communities effectively.
Community Engagement: For many years researchers who have little understanding of minority communities have parachuted into areas with a view to undertake meaningful research to assess their needs. Evidence clearly suggests that they have not been successful in capturing the real issues that are relevant to those communities, for a variety of reasons. For example, they have assumed that minority communities are a homogenous group. They lack access to the local people and engage only with the so called community leaders. So, there is mistrust. 
The Centre for Ethnicity and Health has successfully developed a model of undertaking such assessments of need by raising funds that have been given directly to local groups and individuals and providing intensive training and support to the local people to undertake the ‘research’ themselves, ensuring that all these groups which are often marginalised and not involved in decision making about their lives and the service on offer to them have the opportunity to be heard. 
The model has been implemented across a wide variety of minority ethnic groups and vulnerable communities across England (some 35 different ethnic groups and nationalities have been represented). The programme has received over £6 million of funding from the central government and the regional and local agencies. These funds have been distributed to over 200 minority ethnic community groups; these groups have recruited over 1,500 community individuals who have been trained by the university and supported to undertake a range of engagement activities in the areas of substance misuse, crime, mental health, regeneration, sexual health and education. Over 40,000 community individuals have been engaged and consulted creating an environment where grassroots community members are actively involved in working with a wide range of health, social care and criminal justice agencies to design, develop and deliver quality services. 
The on-going evaluation of the programme suggests that over 22 per cent of those trained by the university who previously have had little or no experience of work in the area that they are engaged in have gained employment as a direct result of being involved in the programme, and many more have gone on to further and higher education. Trust and confidence has been developed between local agencies and communities and new ways to commission and deliver services have been developed.
Organisational Change: It is important that the organisations that provide services to minority ethnic communities undertake work that enables them to provide services that meet the needs of these communities. For example, they need to effectively engage, listen and consult with these communities; collect good quality ethnic data and then analyse that data to improve gaps in services; train existing staff in being able to effectively engage and work with minority ethnic groups; employ staff from the relevant minority ethnic groups; and develop and implement policies and practices that are culturally and religiously relevant. 
I have successfully worked with a wide range of national organisations over a number of years to implement a systematic programme of activities that have enabled this to happen. The work with the Royal College of Psychiatrist in the UK is one good example of this strategy.
Both these models have been used in a major national government programme on the development of mental health services for minority ethnic communities in England: it is called Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health Care, which is a five-year action plan for tackling discrimination and achieving equality in services for Black and minority ethnic patients and communities.
Have you undertaken any project based on South Asians living in UK? If yes, could you elaborate on some such important projects?
Throughout all my work I have tried to ensure that the needs of all minority ethnic groups are represented. I have however undertaken extensive work in the areas of illegal drug use, serious organised crime and mental health targeting South Asian communities and the development of education, prevention and treatment services.
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