It has been revealed that 420 referrals from the NHS to the counter-terrorism de-radicalisation Channel programme were made in 12 months. The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) figures show an average of 35 referrals a month from July 2015 to July 2016 – up from 21 a month the previous year.
It was also revealed that only one in 10 were found to be vulnerable to radicalisation and offered support. According to the NPCC, between April 2007 and March 2014, 80% of those referred to Channel ‘will have exited the process and [been] signposted to services more appropriate to their needs’.
BBC Radio 5 live used a Freedom of Information request to obtain the figures from the NPCC, but there is no breakdown of how many of the 420 referrals were for patients and how many for staff as this information is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
However, campaign group Docs Not Cops was able to obtain figures from some NHS Trusts. They reveal that a lot of referrals were for patients, of which a significant number were people with mental health needs. It found a hospital in Durham referred one staff member and 11 patients. Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust made 10 referrals and eight mental health patients were referred from Bradford District Care.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has expressed concerns about Channel, particularly the science underpinning Channel referrals. According to its statement ‘Counter-terrorism and psychiatry’ released earlier this year, “The poor performance of both adult and child and adolescent tools designed to detect a propensity for terrorism may mean that individuals are unjustifiably referred to the Channel Panel.”
The statement goes on to express concerns about how the de-radicalisation programme can interfere with the treatment mentally ill people should be receiving: “When mental illness is a relevant factor, treatment of the illness might reduce the risk of violence, and this should be encouraged as part of usual psychiatric practice. However, the work of psychiatrists with patients where violence is a possibility should not be framed as de-radicalisation.”
Justifying its policy, a Department of Health spokesperson told The Muslim News: “We want anyone experiencing mental health crisis to get excellent, timely care. However, a referral to Prevent might identify additional needs so that person can get extra support. The Channel service is fully compatible with the duty of care the NHS has towards its patients.”
The spokesperson went on to emphasise that under the new Prevent duty, radicalisation is seen as a form of abuse: “Through the Prevent programme, staff are given training and guidance to spot the signs and act in the same way they would for any other form of abuse.”
However, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has raised questions about whether radicalisation can even be defined as a process let alone a form of abuse. “Methodologies that aim to forecast rare events, such as acts of terror, yield consistently poor results. We do not know what the base-rates for radicalisation or the preparation of terrorist acts are. We have very little data on how terrorists and those who are radicalised differ from the populations they are drawn from.”
The Royal College has also raised the issue that the involvement of Channel in hospitals will put people off seeking treatment for mental illness.