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Calls for action to address ethnic inequalities in healthcare

Vast inequalities across a range of health services exist in the UK, a new report by NHS Race and Health Observatory has found

Vast inequalities across a range of health services exist in the UK, a new report by NHS Race and Health Observatory has found.

Some of the largest inequalities were found for mental healthcare where treatment for Black groups was particularly poor. The review also found there was a lack of research into specific areas including how outcomes may differ for ethnic minority babies in neonatal healthcare settings, where just one study was found to investigate health disparities in the care of ethnic minority new-born babies.

‘Successive governments have avoided tackling the issues of systemic racism and structural inequalities in health and care for far too long and this avoidance has worsened outcomes for communities. The pandemic has highlighted those inequalities and should have been a watershed moment – this report suggests there is still much to be done,’ said the RCN's Chair of Council, Carol Popplestone.

‘At end of last year, our members told us again that ethnic minority nursing staff regularly face abuse and discrimination in the workplace. It is outrageous and we need concrete action from politicians and employers. A long-term strategy from the Government to address these inequalities, including proper investment in public health services, is long overdue.’

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The report also found GPs were less likely to refer ethnic minority patients to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, compared to White patients. Barriers were also faced by patients who delayed or avoided seeking help for health problems due to their fear of racist treatment from NHS healthcare professionals.

Strikingly, there was evidence that the ethnic inequalities in mental healthcare for adult populations is being reproduced in younger populations, with one study in the review showing that Black children were 10 times more likely to be referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) via social services rather than their GP service, in comparison to White British children.

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‘It is clear that existing evidence on the stark health inequalities faced by ethnic minority communities has not led to significant change. This is why the Observatory has been established: to synthesise what already exists, translate it into actionable policy recommendations, and to challenge leaders to act. This report should be a tool for them; highlighting the best quality evidence and making concrete recommendations for change,’ said Dr Habib Naqvi, director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory.

‘By drawing together the evidence, and plugging the gaps where we find them, we have made a clear and overwhelming case for radical action on race inequity in our healthcare system.’