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Sajid Javid orders review after oxygen level readers found to be less accurate on darker skin

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Sajid Javid has ordered an urgent review to look at racial bias in medical devices after a study found oxygen level readers used in hospitals are less accurate for dark-skinned people.

The health secretary, 51, plans to work with US counterparts within Joe Biden’s administration to deliver new health standards around the world.

New measures that will be introduced will aim to ensure that medical devices are tested equally in all races before they are widely sold and used.

Mr Javid wants to kick-start his review after research published earlier this year found that oximeters, used to measure blood oxygen levels, are less accurate in ‘dark-skinned people’.

And it is feared that thousands of ethnic minority patients have died of Covid-19 when they should have survived.

In The Sunday Times, Mr Javid warned of “bias, however unintentional” sneaking into the medical procedure, saying he intended to bring a “new perspective”.

He argued: “While we have come together as a nation to fight this virus, the pandemic has shown that we are far apart in many areas.

At the height of the Covid peak last winter, black, Asian and other ethnic minorities made up 28 percent of intensive care admissions in England – roughly double their representation in the population as a whole.

“It’s easy to look at a machine and assume that everyone is getting the same experience. But technologies are made and developed by humans, so bias, however unintended, can also be an issue here.

“I want to resolve these differences wherever I find them.”

Secretary of Health Sajid Javid, 51, plans to work with US counterparts within Joe Biden’s administration to deliver new health standards around the world

New measures to be introduced will aim to ensure that medical devices such as the oximeter (pictured) are equally tested in all races before being widely sold and used

New measures to be introduced will aim to ensure that medical devices such as the oximeter (pictured) are equally tested in all races before being widely sold and used

Mr Javid said he ordered an independent review of oximeters to determine whether the devices were operating with an underlying “systematic bias.”

Mr Javid advocated the new era of UK medical regulation that could come into effect after Brexit and pointed to other examples he hopes to introduce in the future, including MRI scanners that may become more accessible to pregnant women.

The British health secretary said he would work with Xavier Becerra, Joe Biden’s chief of health in the United States, to develop new policies that would shape medicine around the world.

Mr. Javid summed up his point: ‘Because one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is good health. I will make it my mission to close the gaps the pandemic has uncovered, to make us not only a healthier, but a fairer country.”

In March, the NHS and the medicines and health products regulator both supported calls for an urgent inquiry into the use of pulse oximeters among ethnic minority groups.

Public Health England data showed that BAME groups were at a disproportionate risk of contracting and dying from the virus, in some cases two to four times higher compared to England’s white population, according to The Lancet.

Public Health England data showed that BAME groups were at a disproportionate risk of contracting and dying from the virus, in some cases two to four times higher compared to England's white population, according to The Lancet

Public Health England data showed that BAME groups were at a disproportionate risk of contracting and dying from the virus, in some cases two to four times higher compared to England’s white population, according to The Lancet

Earlier this year, Mr Javid made detailed plans to open the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities after being affected by the vastly different life expectancies in England.

And in October, Mr Javid told the Standard of the growing disparity in life expectancy in London’s boroughs: ‘It is very worrying.

‘When it comes to health outcomes, take life expectancy for example, within England there is a big difference between the different regions, if you look at Blackpool versus London for example, Blackpool generally has a much lower life expectancy.

‘But even within the same regions, so in our big city, for example Barking and Dagenham and Westminster … and you lose life expectancy quickly.

“That’s something that’s been around for many years and it’s one of the main reasons I want to focus a lot more on these health disparities and improving them.”

“It doesn’t happen overnight, people understand that, but that’s why I founded the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.”

In March, the NHS and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency both supported calls for an urgent inquiry into the use of pulse oximeters (above) among ethnic minority groups

In March, the NHS and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency both supported calls for an urgent inquiry into the use of pulse oximeters (above) among ethnic minority groups

Experts believe BAME Britons are more likely to contract Covid because they live in deprived areas, use public transport, have public jobs and live in crowded, multi-generational homes.

And a January survey of nearly 1,800 patients in London hospitals also found that the risk of becoming seriously ill and needing mechanical ventilation was 80 percent greater in black Britons than white people at the first peak. For Asian patients, the risk was 54 percent greater.

dr. Yize Wan, clinical lecturer at Queen Mary and lead author, said: ‘Our study shows the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and Asian groups in the first peak.

Black and Asian people admitted to Barts Health hospitals with Covid-19 were significantly younger in age, had greater acute disease severity and higher mortality compared to white patients of the same age and baseline health.

“As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be visible within our community, it is critical to respond to the ethnic inequalities exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent them from entrenching themselves and intruding on future generations.”

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