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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 into racial bias within medical equipment amid mounting concern from experts that ethnic minority groups are up to four times more likely to die from Covid-19.

The Health Secretary, 51, plans to work alongside American counterparts within Joe Biden’s administration to deliver new health standards across the globe.

New measures set to be introduced will focus on ensuring medical devices have been tested equally across all races before they are widely sold and used.

Mr Javid wants to kickstart his review after research published earlier this year showed oximeters, which are used to record oxygen levels in the blood, are less accurate on ‘people with dark skin’. 

Writing in The Times, Mr Javid warned of ‘bias, however inadvertent,’ creeping into medical procedure and said he planned to bring a ‘fresh perspective’.

He argued: ‘Although we’ve come together as a nation to fight this virus, the pandemic has shown that in many areas we’re far apart. 

‘At the height of the Covid peak last winter, black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups made up 28 per cent of critical-care admissions in England – about double their representation in the population as a whole.

‘It is easy to look at a machine and assume that everyone’s getting the same experience. But technologies are created and developed by people, and so bias, however inadvertent, can be an issue here too. 

‘I want to fix these disparities wherever I find them.’ 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, 51, plans to work alongside American counterparts within Joe Biden's administration to deliver new health standards across the globe

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, 51, plans to work alongside American counterparts within Joe Biden’s administration to deliver new health standards across the globe

New measures set to be introduced will focus on ensuring medical devices, such as the oximeter (pictured) have been tested equally across all races before they are widely sold and used

New measures set to be introduced will focus on ensuring medical devices, such as the oximeter (pictured) have been tested equally across all races before they are widely sold and used

Mr Javid said he was commissioning an independent review into oximeters to determine whether the devices operated with an underlying ‘systematic bias’.

Championing the new-era of British medical regulations that could come into force after Brexit, Mr Javid pointed to other examples he hopes to introduce in the future, including MRI scanners potentially becoming more accessible for pregnant women.

Britain’s Health Secretary said he would be co-operating with Xavier Becerra, Joe Biden’s health chief in the United States, to deliver new policies that would shape medicine across the globe.

Mr Javid summarised his point: ‘Because one of the greatest gifts that you can give anyone is the gift of good health. I’ll make it my mission to close the chasms that the pandemic has exposed, to make us not just a healthier country, but a fairer one too.’

In March, the NHS and the Medicines and Healthcare products regulatory agency both backed calls for an urgent investigation into the use of pulse oximeters in ethnic minority groups.

Public Health England data showed BAME groups were at a disproportionate risk of catching 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 BAME groups were at a disproportionate risk of catching 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 BAME groups were at a disproportionate risk of catching 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 detailed plans to open the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities after being struck by the wildly varied life expectancies across England.

And in October, Mr Javid told the Standard of the widening disparity between life expectancy in London boroughs: ‘It’s deeply concerning.

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

‘But even within the same regions, so in our great city, the example Barking and Dagenham and Westminster…and you are losing life expectancy rapidly.

‘That is something that has been around for many years and it’s one of the key reasons that I want a much bigger focus on these health disparities and improvement of them.

‘It’s not going to happen overnight, people understand that, but it’s why I have set up the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.’

In March, the NHS and the Medicines and Healthcare products regulatory agency both backed calls for an urgent investigation into the use of pulse oximeters (above) in ethnic minority groups

In March, the NHS and the Medicines and Healthcare products regulatory agency both backed calls for an urgent investigation into the use of pulse oximeters (above) in ethnic minority groups

Experts believe BAME Brits are more likely to catch Covid in the first place because they live in deprived areas, use public transport, work public-facing jobs and live in overcrowded and multi-generational homes.

And a January study of almost 1,800 patients in hospitals in London also found the risk of falling critically ill and needing mechanical ventilation was 80 per cent greater in black Brits than white people at the first peak. For Asian patients the risk was 54 per cent larger. 

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 relative to white patients of the same age and baseline health.

‘As the impact of COVID-19 continues to be seen within our community, the importance of responding to the ethnic disparities unmasked during the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial to prevent entrenching and inflicting them on future generations.’



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

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