Sajid Javid launches medical racial and gendered bias review

21 November 2021, 09:16 | Updated: 21 November 2021, 12:58

The Health Secretary said he will do "whatever it takes" to fix health inequalities.
The Health Secretary said he will do "whatever it takes" to fix health inequalities. Picture: Alamy

By Elizabeth Haigh

The Health Secretary Sajid Javid has commissioned a review into racial and gendered bias in medical devices, claiming the pandemic has exposed "chasms" of inequality.

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He argued it is "totally unacceptable" that health bias could lead to worse outcomes for some people.

Mr Javid referenced research on pulse oximeters - devices that are used to measure blood oxygen levels - suggesting that they are less accurate in darker skinned patients.

According to the health secretary, a third of ICU admissions at the height of the pandemic were people from a BAME background, more than double the representation of the population.

He said: "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.

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"So questions like who is writing the code, how a product is tested and who is sitting round the boardroom table are critical - especially when it comes to our health."

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He said he will take a fresh perspective to his role in government and do "whatever it takes" to fix health inequalities, particularly those affecting black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups.

Writing in the Sunday Times, he said: "One of the founding principles of our NHS is equality, and the possibility that a bias - even an inadvertent one - could lead to a poorer health outcome is totally unacceptable."

The Health Secretary added: "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."