The U.K. is launching a new investigation into the impact of medical devices on health due to the revelation that the devices may be subject to racial bias in the way they are used. The growing number of incidents has raised concerns about the way the devices are used, particularly in people of color.
Dr. Helena Houll, a surgeon and a specialist in black and minority ethnic patients, and Polly Newcombe, a campaigner and black health advocate, announced Thursday that they had called on the Health and Social Care Select Committee to scrutinize the way such devices are used. “Our call is for urgent action,” the authors wrote in a letter addressed to the Committee’s Chairwoman, Jane Ellison. “It is beyond belief that new equipment used in hospitals and surgeries would be rated and referenced only for how they treat white people – in which case, no other skin tone would be seen as relevant and so the ‘white test’ would not apply, so that anyone that recorded lower scores would most likely be seen as less competent by the provider.”
The pair said that more than three dozen black and minority ethnic patients have reported being unnecessarily operated on using questionable device treatments. They cited the case of a 69-year-old black man, who suffered acute heart failure, a procedure for which he was deemed eligible under the National Health Service and a diagnosis that was, by all accounts, appropriate and appropriate to the need. On the day of his heart surgery, the staff who operated on him recorded his scars – on the same day he needed to report to his GP. “The 69-year-old wound was opened up twice,” they wrote. “Both opened with a tiny flexible suture that, had it been correctly placed, would have stopped the bleeding from the heart attack that had just taken place and undoubtedly would have resulted in the patient walking unaided in to a local hospital the following day.” When they visited him the next morning, they found that the suture was still in place – but had been “scrubbed” by surgeons from a photograph sent by the team after the surgery. “No photograph of the suture had been taken, it was important to remember,” they wrote.
“Staggering that surgeons might feel they can ‘chew’ on patient scars and render them untraceable to white patients,” Newcombe told BBC News. “For doctors to assess the safety of an instrument, which could contain any number of wound complications, they would need accurate medical information. However, there is evidence that hospitals discriminate against black and minority ethnic patients in terms of what and how they are being reported to. If a surgeon has any reason to think that a patient is a Black or Asian ethnicity they will be more likely to perform an operation that may put their patient at risk, or in fact claim an improved ‘validity’ score for the procedure.”
The British Medical Association has reported that black and Asian doctors felt they are held to a higher standard of care in their clinics, and also suffered attacks, racism and discrimination on the job. Black and Asian medical students have also spoken about how race-based hurdles in the entrance and education of medical schools ensure that the “student body does not reflect the communities into which they will be admitted.”
Read the full story at BBC News.
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