NHS inequality: Average health of some ethnic minority groups 'similar to white British 80-year-old', study finds

People from ethnic minority backgrounds are being 'failed' by the NHS in England, according to a study. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

People from ethnic minority backgrounds are being "failed" by the NHS in England, according to a study.

The University of Manchester study, published in the Lancet, found the average health of  60-year-olds from Gypsy or Irish Traveller, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Arab groups is similar to that of a white British 80-year-old.

The study found unfairness in NHS services was exaggerating health inequalities, with people from some ethnic minority groups more likely to report insufficient support from local services to manage health conditions.

Lead author Dr Ruth Watkinson, from the University of Manchester, said: “This suggests the NHS as an institution is failing people from some ethnic groups.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

“Policy action is needed to transform healthcare and wider support services to make sure they meet the needs of all individuals in England’s multi-ethnic population fairly.

“But policymakers also need to address the structural racism that makes it harder for people belonging to ethnic minority groups to access socio-economic opportunities because poverty is a major cause of poor health.”

So what did the study find?

  • 12% of British population is from an ethnic minority background, but these communities have experience higher infection and mortality rates during Covid-19 pandemic.

  • In 15 out of 17 ethnic minority groups, health-related quality of life was worse on average than for white British people, with inequalities generally wider for women.

  • The study found large differences between ethnicities often grouped together in broad categories. For example, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Chinese ethnicities are often categorised as “Asian”.

  • But the study found that people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicity often had the worst disadvantage in health whereas people of Chinese ethnicity had a “relative advantage”.

  • Older people from ethnic minority groups were more likely to report suffering common long-term conditions like diabetes and having two or more conditions.

  • The two ethnic groups who were healthier than white British people were Chinese men and women, and black African men.

The study used the England-wide GP Patient Survey to analyse responses from almost 1.4 million adults aged over 55, surveyed between 2015 and 2017.

It included 152,710 people who self-identified as belonging to an ethnic minority group — the largest-ever sample.

Mattey Mitchell who is Romany and a health campaigns officer at Friends, Families and Travellers said: “For the Romany people, these findings reflect a stark and familiar reality.

“We’ve learned to accept this reality as the norm, but this study reminds us it is not. In turn, I hope it will remind others that the sharp edge of inequality has a very real and dangerous impact on peoples’ lives.”

Co-author Dr Alex Turner said: “This emphasises the need for more nuanced research to understand the specific difficulties that older adults from particular minority ethnic groups experience.”

Dr Turner added: “Researchers haven’t been able to research the health outcomes of people over 55 in ethnic minority groups, because they aren’t included in sufficient numbers in most datasets

“Much official data doesn’t distinguish between groups, which can mask inequalities, but this study allowed us to analyse results for all 18 of the UK census ethnic groups separately, allowing us to see differences between them.

“There needs to be more data collection with much better inclusion of people from ethnic minority groups in longitudinal studies.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “While of course the determinants of health and wellbeing stretch far beyond health care itself – and include jobs, housing, income, diet, exercise and wider social inequalities – the health service also has a key role to play in supporting diverse communities to stay healthy and access high quality care.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This Government is committed to ensuring everyone has access to high quality healthcare, regardless of where they live or who they are.

“That’s why we are levelling up across this country – so that everyone can have the opportunity to enjoy a long and healthy life.