Launch of a review on racial and gender bias in medical devices

A study has been commissioned on possible racial and gender bias in medical devices.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid ordered the review after pledging to “bridge the chasms the pandemic has exposed”, adding that it was “totally unacceptable” that even inadvertent bias may lead to poorer health outcomes for some people.

Mr Javid said he was “determined to take a fresh perspective” on his role in government and “do whatever it takes” to correct the disparities, citing the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on people. black ethnic groups, Asians and other minorities.

It comes as research has revealed that oximeters, which help detect the first signs of dangerous drops in oxygen levels in Covid patients so they can receive emergency care, are less accurate on those with dark skin.

Mr Javid told the BBC Andrew Marr Show that people may have died from inaccurate oximeter readings.

When asked if lives could have been lost, he replied, “I think maybe yes. These oximeters are used in all countries and they have the same problem and the reason is that a lot of these medical devices, some drugs, manuals, procedures, most of them are set up in majority white countries and I think there is a systemic problem.

Write in Sunday TimesMr Javid said: “I want to make sure that the benefits of the incredible advancements in technology and treatments that we have seen in recent years are widely shared, so that they help not hinder this work.

“It’s easy to look at a machine and assume that everyone is going through the same experience. But technologies are created and developed by people, and so biases, even unintentional ones, can also be a problem here.

“So questions like who writes the code, how a product is tested and who sits around the board table are critical, especially when it comes to our health. “

He added: “One of the founding principles of our NHS is equality, and the possibility that bias – even unintentionally – could lead to a poorer health outcome is totally unacceptable.”

The minister, who said he “looked with horror” at the testimony of cricketers last week who had experienced racism in the game, spoke of his own experience growing up.

He wrote: “The same word that was so ridiculously dismissed as a joke between teammates was often used against me when I was growing up – and I can assure you that it’s not a joke, it hurts.

“Although attitudes have fortunately changed a lot since then, there are still too many people in this country who find the odds are unfairly stacked against them. “

Mr Javid said the independent review he launched will also examine “other important biases such as gender bias”, considering things such as ensuring that “vital technologies such as MRI scanners can be made accessible to pregnant or breastfeeding women “.

He said: “One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is the gift of good health.

“I will make it my mission to bridge the chasms that the pandemic has exposed, to make us not only a healthier country, but also a fairer one.”

Additional reporting by the Press Association.


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