Health ministry admits neglect of ethnic minorities

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The Independent Online
The Department of Health admitted yesterday that it had neglected the health of ethnic minorities, who suffer higher rates of heart disease, strokes, diabetes and schizophrenia.

The Government believes that social and cultural differences have excluded many from health care and Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, promised yesterday to 'tune the NHS more precisely to their needs'.

Dr Kenneth Calman, the Government's Chief Medical Officer, said yesterday that detailed health information on the special needs of second and third generation ethnic minority groups was largely lacking. Health education messages might not have reached all groups, he said.

'We may well have been missing them. Simply producing health education leaflets and videos is not sufficient and we now have to take the initiative,' he said, launching his first annual report, On the State of the Public Health 1991.

Ethnic minorities make up 5 per cent of the population, mostly concentrated in inner cities. Dr Calman said that the 1991 census which identified ethnic origin was only just beginning to provide useful information.

But information about one group cannot be extrapolated to others. 'It is thus currently impossible to obtain a comprehensive picture,' the report says.

However, differences in disease patterns within ethnic groups and between them and the majority white population have emerged from small health studies.

Men and women from the Indian subcontinent have excess rates of heart disease of 36 per cent and 46 per cent respectively over whites. 'The causes of these findings are not fully understood but they have important implications for the planning of services,' Dr Calman said.

People born in the Caribbean and in Africa are at higher risk of stroke. Although Africans have more high blood pressure, this still does not explain the higher incidence of stroke among them.

Another special health need is for the treatment of schizophrenia among Caribbean people in Britain in whom the incidence seems to be three to six times greater than among whites.

'Caribbean people are more likely to be admitted to hospital compulsorily, particularly by the police, with whom they will have had greater contact prior to admission,' the report says.

People of Asian and Caribbean origins also have twice to five times as much diabetes as the general population.

Dr Calman said yesterday that systems of collecting health information in health authorities would begin next year and be expanded in 1994. A research charity is also establishing a health data base for ethnic minorities.

Mrs Bottomley promised to boost employment and promotion opportunities for ethnic groups within the NHS.

The report also highlights the increase in a form of dysentery called shigellosis, the reason for which is unclear; an increase in gonorrhea among homosexuals; and an increase in suicide in young men.

On the State of Public Health 1991; HMSO; pounds 14.50.