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Fear of causing offence leads to "poor recording" of vital ethnicity data

A fear of causing offence by asking patients their ethnic origin has led to a gap in data collection that could help identify those with a high risk of chronic illness, new research claims.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have found GPs and nurses often fail to ask about a patient's ethnic origin for fear of offending them.

They say that this has led to a gap in ethnicity data collection for patients, which means experts are being prevented from identifying and assisting ethnic minority patients with a high risk of chronic illness.

This is particularly important for cancer, the researchers claim, as ethnic minorities may leave it too late to go to their GP and consequently have poor survival rates.

Professor Janet Dunn, who led the study, stresses that the accurate collection of ethnicity data can help researchers assess the size of a problem, how to tackle it and how to ensure resources are targeted at high-risk populations.

For example, in the UK the Bangladeshi community has the highest percentage of male smokers, 44%, followed by Irish males at 39%. The average figure for the general population is 27%.

South Asians in the UK are 50% more likely to die prematurely from coronary heart disease than the general UK population. Males and females of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are also six times more likely to have diabetes.

Professor Dunn said: "Ethnic data collection is a sorely neglected area and it is vitally important that we take steps now to assess the health of all ethnic groups in society. Poor recording of this data in the UK has been identified, especially in primary care.

"There are many reasons for this, including awareness of sensitivities when asking for these data, lack of motivation to collect or provide data, unwillingness (or inability due to language barriers) for individuals to provide information, and lack of understanding as to how such data can or will be used."

When asked how they felt about providing their ethnicity, the overwhelming majority of South Asian volunteers who were interviewed in their own language as part of this study would not have a problem, provided that it was used to improve healthcare services.

Professor Dunn will present her findings from the Cancer Research UK-commissioned Cancer Ethnicity report to the Warwick South Asia Group workshops, being held at the University of Warwick this week.

Warwick University


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Do you believe a fear of causing offence is the main reason for the reported lack of ethnicity data in primary care?

Your comments:
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"Yes, from my experience. Some Jewish clients were very rude to me when I asked for this information. The older clients seem to identify this with past abuse." - Jemma Joseph-Crosby, East London