Do UK healthcare standards differ depending on your ethnic background? | Bolt Burdon Kemp Do UK healthcare standards differ depending on your ethnic background? | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Do UK healthcare standards differ depending on your ethnic background?

At some point or another in our lives, it’s likely that many of us will have to book in a visit with a healthcare professional to help with any medical issues that may be worrying us. And whilst for the majority of us, our experience with a healthcare practitioner is likely to be a positive one, sadly for others this is not always the case.

One of our clients is Black and she has an African accent. She suffered with cervical disc prolapse for over six years before it was diagnosed. She was unable to walk, had significant sensory problems and was suffering from neuropathic pain in all four limbs by the time she was eventually diagnosed.

Despite clearly communicating her incredibly serious symptoms numerous times she was repeatedly ‘fobbed off’ by medical staff – her GP continually told her that all she needed to do was to lose weight and carry out some physio exercises.

Our client believes her health concerns were ignored due to racial bias.

To find out if this is a common occurrence or sentiment, we decided to conduct further research into this.

Our study

We examined recent NHS data and found that, worryingly, people from some ethnic groups have been reporting negative healthcare experiences at a higher rate than the national average.

For example, the most recent figures suggest that around 72% of British people have reported a ‘good’ experience with their GP, however, for those patients specifically from a Bangladeshi (57%), Pakistani (59%), or Gypsy/Traveller (60%) background, this figure falls substantially lower.

And it’s a similar story when examining data around UK hospital care, with the average satisfaction score of 76 out of 100 dropping to 69/100 for some ethnic groups.

We also interviewed an ethnically representative panel of 2,000 UK residents about their own healthcare experiences over the past 12 months. To complement our own data, we also analysed numerous Gov.uk data sources, including data on how patients from different ethnicities have felt about their healthcare experiences in recent years.

We approached this topic with a constructive mindset, hoping that any areas that are highlighted, can in the future be targeted with positive adjustments that can increase fairness and positive outcomes across the UK.

Overall snapshot

We asked our interviewees several questions, including whether they feel they are treated differently to other patients when receiving medical care in the UK, whether they would consider paying more in taxes to help the NHS bridge any gaps between treatments/services offered to all ethnic groups, and to explore whether they have been made aware of conditions that are more prevalent in people of their ethnicity.

Overall, just over half of the people that we surveyed (53%), felt that over the past year, they have not received the same healthcare treatment as other people, either due to their ethnicity, gender, age, or other factors.

Surprisingly, just one in ten (10%) also stated that through their GP, or any other health worker, they’ve previously been made aware of certain conditions that are more prevalent in people from their own ethnic background.

Despite this, just one in seven (13%) felt that the NHS should do more to let people know of conditions that are more prevalent in people of their ethnicity.

Do you feel that patients from a majority ethnic background are treated better than people from other backgrounds in a healthcare setting?

When asked whether they feel that patients from a majority ethnic background (e.g., white British) are treated better than people from other backgrounds in a healthcare setting, one in ten respondents agreed with this statement (10%).

Less than ten percent of White British (7%) respondents would agree with this statement though.

Five ethnic groups with highest percentage of people that feel that patients from a majority ethnic background (e.g., white British) are treated better than people from other ethnic backgrounds:

The list below shows % of patients who have been made aware of conditions more prevalent in their ethnic background

Overall average across all groups who took part in the study – 10%

  1. White Gypsy or Irish Traveller – 40%
  2. Mixed descent – White and Black African – 32%
  3. Mixed descent – White and Asian – 32%
  4. Black Caribbean – 29%
  5. Pakistani – 22%

Although the overall average here sits at just ten percent, as highlighted earlier in the study, there are substantial numbers of those who feel the medical treatment they have received over the past twelve months has been different due to their background, be it related to age, gender, ethnicity, or otherwise.

And sadly, unconscious racial bias does exist, even when it comes to areas of life such as healthcare. Helping patients who feel as though they have been treated poorly or have experienced medical negligence due to an unconscious racial bias is something that we have experience of.

For example, our team of spinal injury experts have recently represented a Black woman, who felt that her negative healthcare experience was partially due to her ethnic background.

She suffered with a cervical disc prolapse for over six years, and was left unable to walk, with significant sensory problems, and was suffering from neuropathic pain in all four limbs by the time she was eventually diagnosed.

Her GP surgery continually told her that all she needed to do was to lose weight and carry out some physio exercises.

Our client felt that being Black and speaking with an African accent, meant that her health concerns were taken less seriously than other patients’ might have been.

The woman said: “I couldn’t understand why my concerns weren’t being taken seriously. I now know that I was right and that my situation was critical, and I needed urgent medical attention but at the time I was treated like I was not worth listening to.

My White friend could not understand why I would not point out what was happening was as a result of racial bias, but I felt that suggesting that someone might be treating you differently because you are Black normally makes things worse, so I was stuck.

I know that I would have been taken seriously if I was White and spoke with an English accent.”

Would you happily pay more tax to ensure that the NHS can provide an equal healthcare outcome for all ethnic groups?

We also explored whether UK residents would be happy to pay more in taxes, if it meant that the NHS was able to close the gap in healthcare outcomes and experiences between ethnic groups.

According to the findings, when quizzed on whether they’d be happy to pay more taxes to create a more equal healthcare system, only around one in seven of the people we spoke to said yes (14%), but this figure was higher for some groups. The figure jumped to roughly one in three people from a Pakistani background, for example.

Five ethnic groups with the highest percentage of people that would pay higher taxes:

Overall average across all groups who took part in the study – 14%

  1. Pakistani – 34%
  2. Black Caribbean – 23%
  3. Mixed descent – White and Black African – 20%
  4. White Irish – 19%
  5. Indian – 19%

Have you been made aware of any conditions that are more prevalent in people of your ethnic background?

Dependent on your ethnic background, it can be much more likely that you might – at some point in your life – be afflicted with a particular health condition.

As an example, around one in four Black men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, roughly double the UK average rate of one in eight men. Similarly, around 8% of Black people carry the Sickle Cell gene, a much higher rate than the national average.

In the UK, across all ethnic groups, just one in ten people (10%) have been made aware of such information. This means that nine out of ten people in the UK have not been informed of their increased risk of developing some conditions.

In some ethnic groups, less than 10% of people have been made aware of conditions they are at an increased risk of. The vast majority of ethnic groups have at least one condition in which they experience healthcare outcomes that are worse than the national average.

Five ethnic groups least likely to have been made aware of certain conditions that are more prevalent in people from their ethnic background (either via their GP or another health worker): 

Table shows % of patients who have been made aware of conditions more prevalent in their ethnic background
Overall average across all groups who took part in the study – 10%

  1. Mixed descent – White and Black Caribbean – 3%
  2. Bangladeshi – 5%
  3. Mixed descent – White and Black African – 8%
  4. White (English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British) – 9%
  5. Mixed descent – White and Asian – 11%

Black African (30%) and Black Caribbean (23%) people are more likely to have been made aware of conditions they are at risk of than the UK average, but this still means that more than two out of every three Black people are left unaware of their heightened risk of conditions like prostate cancer.

Applying this rate to the UK population, we estimate that over 750,000 Black men have been left uninformed of their potential susceptibility to a prostate cancer diagnosis.

The findings highlight the opportunity for the NHS to increase awareness around the importance of testing for this specific cancer among Black men, which in turn could help to reduce the chances of Black men receiving a delayed diagnosis of prostate cancer.

The above findings also suggest that the NHS is being slow to respond to our increasingly diverse population in light of the number of people of mixed heritage who said they are not being advised of conditions that they may be more likely to develop due to their ethnicity.

Does the region you live in play a part?

We interviewed UK residents from all over the country as part of the study, asking them to share with us what the closest city to them was. We did so in order to highlight whether there are any significant differences in healthcare experiences depending on location.

Londoners (39%) were discovered to be the least likely to feel as though they were treated the same way as everyone else when it came to healthcare across the past 12 months specifically. Outside of London, Bristol also had a lower-than-average number of residents who agreed with this statement (41%). As a national average, around half of UK residents (47%) feel they are treated the same as anyone else.

In contrast, the UK city with the highest number of residents who were confident they had been treated the same way as everyone else in a healthcare setting over the past year, was Newcastle (59%).

Edinburgh residents emerged as the UK residents most committed to providing an equal healthcare outcome for all, with a fifth of those living in the city (19%) saying that they would be happy to pay more in taxes if it meant that the NHS could provide a more equal service to people from all ethnic backgrounds.

Meanwhile, Sheffield had the lowest percentage of residents who agreed with this sentiment (6%).

That said, just 1% of Edinburgh residents felt that patients from a majority ethnic background (e.g., White British) are treated better than people from other backgrounds in a healthcare setting. For reference, 92% of Edinburgh’s population (437,167 out of 476,626 people) are white.

Contrastingly, 14% of residents from London and Cardiff opposed this view.

The study also highlighted that an estimated 5,000 Plymouth residents (2%) believe they have experienced an incident with a healthcare professional where they felt they were offered a poor service due to their ethnicity, the highest percentage in the study.

Our conclusion

We want to see equality in the patient experience and health outcomes for UK residents – no matter their age, gender, location, or ethnicity. And everybody, no matter what their background, should have their health concerns taken seriously.

A number of conditions and diseases are much more prevalent in people from certain backgrounds, and we believe that awareness of this needs to be raised so more lives can be saved, something that was also spotlighted in our findings.

With this in mind, we are encouraged by the possible areas of improvement that have been highlighted by the data. Using the headline statistic as an example, it would be wonderful to see awareness around prostate cancer continue to grow, and hopefully we can see improvements that will lead to more saved lives.

We hope our study has highlighted the disparity in healthcare experience amongst UK adults as a whole, and we are keen to see these perceptions narrow in the coming years.

Despite this, we think it is worth highlighting that on average, public trust in the NHS remains very strong. Even with the NHS under enormous stress, the most recent figures show that over eight out of ten people (83%) reported having a positive experience when last visiting their GP.

Have you had a bad healthcare experience?

If you have had a bad experience, we are here to help. With a team of lawyers that specialise in areas such as birth injury, women’s health, and more, do get in touch to hear about how we can help you.

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