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Fear of offending ethnic minority patients leaves them over exposed to chronic illness

Researchers at the University of Warwick have found GPs and nurses often fail to ask about a patient’s ethnic origin for fear of offending them. This has led to a gap in ethnicity data collection for patients which means experts are being prevented from identifying and assisting ethnic minority patients with high risk of chronic illness - this is particularly important for cancer, as ethnic minorities may leave it too late to go to their GP and consequently have poor survival rates.

Professor Janet Dunn from the University of Warwick's Medical School will present her findings from the Cancer Research UK-commissioned ‘Cancer Ethnicity’ report to the Warwick South Asia Group workshops, being held at the University of Warwick on April 16 and 18.

She will stress that the accurate collection of ethnicity data can help researchers to assess the size of a problem, how to tackle it and how to ensure resources are targeted at high risk populations. Her report states that ethnicity data collection and monitoring is particularly important for cancer, as ethnic minorities often leave it too late to go to their GP and have poor survival rates. Some ethnic groups are also associated with high risk behaviour which can contribute to these conditions.

For example, in the UK the Bangladeshi community has the highest percentage of male smokers, 44%, followed by Irish males at 39%. The average figure for the general population is 27%. South Asians in the UK are 50% more likely to die prematurely from coronary heart disease than the general UK population. Males and females of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are also six times more likely to have diabetes.

Professor Dunn said: "Ethnic data collection is a sorely neglected area and it is vitally important that we take steps now to assess the health of all ethnic groups in society. Poor recording of this data in the UK has been identified especially in primary care.

"There are many reasons for this including awareness of sensitivities when asking for these data, lack of motivation to collect or provide data, unwillingness (or inability due to language barriers) for individuals to provide information, and lack of understanding as to how such data can or will be used."

When asked how they felt about providing their ethnicity, the overwhelming majority of South Asian volunteers who were interviewed in their own language as part of this study would not have a problem provided that it was used to improve healthcare services.

Professor Dunn added incomplete or inaccurate data collection would mean the people most in need of resources and services would be overlooked by the healthcare system.

The Warwick South Asia Group Workshops, ‘South Asians and Reproductive Health’ will take place on the morning of 16 April and ‘Key Diseases in South Asians’ will take place on the afternoon of 18 April.

For more information please contact

Kelly Parkes, Communications Officer, University of Warwick, 02476 150483, 07824 540863,


Peter Dunn,
Press and Media Relations Manager
Communications Office, University House,
University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 8UW, United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)24 76 523708
Mobile/Cell: +44 (0)7767 655860