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February 11, 2022

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Levelling up healthcare

Government launches independent reviews to tackle health disparities

The UK government has announced leads for two independent reviews into ethnic inequalities for medical devices and tobacco control.

Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead will lead the review into ethnic inequalities for medical devices and Javed Khan OBE will lead a review into tobacco control.

Their findings will form part of wider plans to level up the country, reducing existing inequalities, and enabling people across the country to live longer, healthier lives, through the health disparities white paper.

Dame Margaret Whitehead’s review into potential bias in the design and use of medical devices will explore the ways in which medical devices and technologies are designed and used. The review comes after concerns were raised about the impact of ethnic background on a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, emphasising already present inequalities in healthcare.

Moreover, Javed Khan OBE, former CEO of Bernardo’s, will lead an independent review of the government’s ambition to make England smoke free by 2030. While the government has made good progress in reducing smoking rates to the lowest ever level, there are still an estimated six million smokers in England. Tobacco is also still the single largest cause of preventable deaths, with 64,000 people dying from smoking in 2019.

Both reviews will form part of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) agenda to tackle inequalities in healthcare, which will include the publication of the health disparities whitepaper in spring and the Tobacco Control Plan later this year.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “The pandemic has shown the resilience of the British public and brought communities together to look after each other in the most challenging times. But it has also exposed chasms in our society – particularly in health.

“Where someone is born, their background, their gender, or the colour of their skin should not impact their health outcomes.

“Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead and Javed Khan OBE both have vast experience in tackling health inequalities, and I look forward to the outcome of their reviews so we can continue to level up across society and make sure everyone – no matter where they live or come from – can live a long, healthy life.”

The far-reaching independent review into potential ethnic bias in the design and use of medical devices in the UK will:

  • Identify systematic inequalities in registered medical devices
  • Make recommendations on how these inequalities should be tackled
  • Consider what systems need to be in place to ensure emerging technologies are developed without ethnic inequalities
  • Improve global standards to better healthcare and tackle disparities

The review comes as the Health and Social Care Secretary sets out his vision to make England a world-leader in cancer care as we learn to live with COVID-19.

The independent review into the government’s tobacco policies will report back in April 2022, while the potential ethnic bias in the design and use of medical devices review will be published within the next 18 months.

Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead, said: “There are growing concerns about the potential for racial bias in the design and use of some medical devices commonly used in the NHS, and that the treatment of patients from some ethnic groups may be less effective as a result. It is important that this review establishes the extent and impact of such potential racial bias and what can be done to remedy it.”

Javed Khan OBE, said: “I am very pleased to be leading this review into such an important area of public health. My independent findings will help highlight key interventions which can help the government achieve its ambitions to be smoke-free by 2030 and tackle health disparities.”

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