Sometimes all those tick boxes on ‘ethnic origin’ don’t paint the complete picture – we need to make use of people’s knowledge and background

I don’t mean to offend people, but as a patient, every time I fill in a form that asks me what is my Ethnic origin, I wonder if the forms could could go one step further and ask questions that make  use of the diversity there is in Britain?   

Image result for royalty free multiracial image


So where is Jeremy Hunt ?  Why isn’t he reassuring all the NHS staff, worried they might have to go home after Brexit terms are announced?  Keeping quiet isn’t helpng all those from overseas who came to work here in the NHS.

Talking to NHS staff who come from other countries, many are worried that Brexit means that they won’t be able to work in the NHS – surely that’s not what we want?

Without Filipinos my local Trust hospital would only have half its staff.  Yet talking to them, they are concerned that Brexit will mean them having to go home – surely the last thing the NHS can afford?

Let’s tell them NOW that they are needed, and whilst we are about it, let’s make use of their knowledge.  

And I don’t know how many EU nationals we have working in the NHS (usually because their partner is working here), but we miss a golden opportunity to learn from them.  They come from countries with better outcomes from Maternity to Cancer, yet talking to them apparently our medics are too arrogant to ask “what to do you do in this instance?”  Well, they should – and learning from Europeans might improve the quality of our care.

Just last week a Swedish doctor, who had trained in one of world’s best cancer hospitals, said I should get some moles checked out.  Yet an arrogant Locum GP said he thought the moles were perfectly OK.  Why do we waste time having to get referrals from these people?  Upshot is I am going privately.  I don’t want to find months later that I have skin cancer.

Last year I spent three months in hospital, and found myself becoming very ‘racist’.   I had Polio as a child, and this means I have difficulties with mobility, pain, etc.  British or Irish nurses would tell me they thought Polio had been eradicated, and didn’t know how to move me.  But anyone from Bangladesh, Nepal, African states, etc. got a warm welcome from me because,  sadly, their countries have had recent experience of polio, hence they knew exactly how to nurse me.

But if I had asked to be allocated a nurse from certain countries this would have got me funny looks,  if not a lecture for being non-PC.

Is it time to reconsider the questions asked in surveys?  

Before we start accusing others of being ‘racists’, isn’t it time we took a look at all the diversity there is around, and made use of it? 

We all need others, but so often we don’t look for what others can do for us.  e.g every time I get one of those forms that asks me to fill in ethnic origins, I wonder why?

Because the answers that would be useful to me as a Polio survivor would be to know if nurses looking after me come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria etc..  e.g from any country that only recently eradicated polio.  Its citizens are more likely to understand how to look after the 600,000 of us who are living with long-term consequences of the polio epidemics of the 1950s, than the average UK nurse whose only contact with polio during training seems to be that they are told it has been eradicated.


Yes, thankfully this awful disease hasn’t been around in Britain for many years, but those of us who caught it during the major epidemics are left with muscle weakness etc. and we won’t ever get better.  So we still need care, and I object strongly to hurtful comments such as “I thought Polio was finished”.

British nurses are no longer taught about how to ‘handle’ polio survivors, and moving me could be painful.  But those nurses who came from the countries I mentioned knew exactly what to do, and were totally professional in the way they knew how to make moving less painful.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer and other variants

Cancer is another disease that can have ‘racist’ origins.  I’ll never forget findng a fellow African patient in tears because she was going to be fitted with a prosthethis breast  form – and the nurse had told her to bring a pop sock to wrap round it, as they only had pink ones.  This was in a hospital that called itself a “world cancer centre”.

A major medical publishing house commissioned me to write a book on  “Inflammatory Breast Cancer” (Amazon).  Whilst writing this, I found that patients from African countries were more likely to present with this type of cancer – but so far no-one knew why.

However, IBC doesn’t always follow the usual routes, so can be difficult to identify;  it would make sense if someone had an African background, a doctor should be extra vigilant.  But this friend had had IBC, and it had taken far too long for it to be confirmed.

Cancer rates can vary according to origins

Cancer rates differ between African- and U.S.-born black Americans, a new study finds.

“Typically, cancer occurrence among blacks in the United States is presented as one homogenous group, with no breakdown by country or region of birth,” said study co-author Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, an American Cancer Society epidemiologist.

“Our study shows that approach masks important potential differences that may be key to guiding cancer prevention programs for African-born black immigrants,” Jemal added.

The researchers analyzed 2000-2012 U.S. data to compare rates of the top 15 cancers in African-born blacks to U.S.-born blacks.

Blacks born in sub-Sahara Africa had much higher rates of infection-related cancers (liver, stomach and Kaposi sarcoma) than U.S.-born blacks. They also had higher rates of blood cancers (leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma), prostate cancer and thyroid cancers (in females only).

For example, the rate of Kaposi sarcoma was 12 times higher in African-born black women than U.S.-born black women, the researchers found. Kaposi sarcoma is a cancer that causes lesions in soft tissues.

However, the lung cancer rate for African-born black men was 30 times lower than for U.S.-born blacks. African-born men also had lower colon cancer rates.

The researchers also found that cancer rates varied by region of birth in Africa. For example, higher rates of liver cancer among males and of thyroid cancer in females were confined to those born in eastern Africa, while the higher rate of prostate cancer among men was limited to those born in western Africa.

The study was published online April 13 in the journal Cancer.

Environmental, cultural, social and genetic factors may explain the differences in cancer rates between African- and U.S.-born blacks. Learning more about such influences could lead to targeted cancer prevention programs, Jemal and his colleagues said in a journal news release.

Blacks from sub-Sahara Africa are among the fastest-growing populations in the United States. They accounted for a large proportion of the estimated 2.1 million black African immigrants in the United States in 2015, according to notes with the study.


Wheeled in to A & E in St. Mary’s, Paddington, the doctor treating me was obviouly from abroad.  Having worked in about 40 countries I am always curious about where people come from, but he assured me I wouldn’t know the town he came from in Italy – and was absolutely astounded that not only had I been treated in the hospital where he had trained but been under one of his doctors for osteoporosis care.

We spent a facinating time at midnight on a Saturday chatting whilst I waited to be admitted!  Sadly he was going back to Italy, so his expertise in treating Osteoporosis was never tapped.

So isn’t it time questionnaires asked not only what origins we are, but also what experience we can offer?

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines strategies for cancer prevention.

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Tags: cancer


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