NHS to check ethnic origins

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THE ETHNIC origin of NHS patients will be monitored from next year to help assess the health needs of black and Asian people and improve services to them.

The Department of Health hopes this the exercise will shed light on the disproportionately high rates of diagnosis for schizophrenia among black communities, and the alleged racial discrimination they suffer from health professionals.

Baroness Julia Cumberlege, Under-Secretary of State for Health, acknowledged yesterday that ethnic minorities were sometimes poorly served by the NHS because of 'difficulties over language, food, and staff attitudes'.

Speaking at the launch of the new ethnic health unit at the Department of Health, Baroness Lady Cumberlege emphasised there were special problems with mental health services. 'The rates of diagnosis for schizophrenia among Afro-Caribbean people are much higher in this country than in the Caribbean. 'I think that tells us something about our services, as much as it does about our resident population.'

According to the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, black people are between three and 12 twelve times more likely to be diagnosed as schizophrenic than white people. Psychiatrists are deeply divided over the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors, including the attitude and cultural values of the patient's doctor.

Black people represent 6 per cent of the UK population - although in some inner city areas, the figure is as high as 40 per cent in some inner cities. Asian people suffer relatively high rates of heart disease, and Afro-Caribbeans appear particularly susceptible to strokes.

The Government yesterday disclosed the provision of that pounds 500,000, to would be dispersed by the new health unit to community projects supporting ethnic minorities.

Much of work being funded will be health education, and the provision of more information about access to the NHS.