WHY IS THE BLACK HEALTH MATTERS PROGRAMME CRUCIAL?
In the UK, black communities are more likely to die, to be hospitalised and to have their health issues addressed later in their health journey — across every health area.
Health inequality amongst black and ethnic minority communities is not new. But the depth of that inequality, why it exists and the mechanisms to address it are less understood. The COVID-19 pandemic inadvertently helped to lift the lid on the seriousness of this situation — the millions of lives whose health and quality of life is poorer because of the colour of their skin.
Instead of the pandemic acting as a ‘leveller’, it was people of colour most at risk from, well, everything. Black people were at higher risks of infection, higher risk of being hospitalised and higher risk of dying.
- 71% of nurses and midwives who died were people of colour.
- 94% of doctors that died were people of colour.
- 63% of all NHS staff who died were people of colour.
This is far from a one off phenomenon. Earlier this month, the National Maternity and Perinatal Unit produced research which unequivocally showed that pregnancy complications disproportionately affect women from black and ethinic minority communities.
We spoke to Dale Taylor-Gentles, project coordinator of the Black Health Matters programme at The Love Tank CIC, who told us why these inequalities exist and how his new project will help to educate the medical profession and raise awareness amongst communities affected.
WHY DO HEALTH INEQUALITIES AMONG RACIALISED COMMUNITIES EXIST?
There are three key reasons – medical bias, environmental racism and cultural stigma.
- Medical bias is about common misconceptions about how our bodies are understood by medical professionals and can determine how we are treated. Examples of bias include assumptions like people of colour having a higher pain tolerance, so black women in labour are given pain medication much later through the process; that our skin is thicker; that it’s harder to diagnose skin conditions because of the colour of our skin.
- Environmental racism is the combination of racism compounded by living conditions. Black people are more likely to live in areas with higher pollution, worse housing and therefore worse general health, and with higher stress levels that have a negative impact on how we’re able to combat illness.
- Cultural stigma is a real barrier when it comes to discussing health issues and conditions within family and the wider community. As a result, many people don’t seek help until much further down their health journey, meaning they are more likely to have to be treated with stronger medicine or more invasive treatment. This stigma is then worsened again by a lack of trust — their negative lived experiences with the medical profession for all of the reasons above deter future visits or engagement with health professionals.
WHAT ARE KEY THINGS THE PROGRAMME IS TRYING TO ACHIEVE?
The aim of the Black Health Matters programme is to address that underlying connective tissue — the medical bias, racism, environmental racism and cultural stigma.
- Encourage more conversation about our health and give a platform to people with lived experience of health issues.
- Create a legacy for the next generation of campaigners and activists with the tools and information to campaign on health inequality.