This is the third of a short series of blogs in which we take a look back at our work in five areas of patient safety during 2021. In this blog we look at how we’ve been highlighting patient safety concerns relating to health inequalities.
Through our work, Patient Safety Learning seeks to harness the knowledge, insights, enthusiasm and commitment of health and social care organisations, professionals and patients for system-wide change and the reduction of avoidable harm. We believe patient safety is not just another priority; it is a core purpose of health and social care. Patient safety should not be negotiable.
Increasingly this year, Patient Safety Learning has been highlighting that equality is a patient safety issue. Health inequalities can result in poorer outcomes for particular patient groups in a variety of ways, including by impacting on their safety during healthcare and treatment.
One area we have highlighted is the negative impact that sex and gender bias can have on women.
In a blog on International Women’s Day this year, we highlighted a number of concerns including male-centric design of PPE and surgical equipment, and lack of data on how medications and devices affect female bodies.
Another issue is that too often, female symptoms are still dismissed as stress or anxiety, and women are robbed of the medical attention they require and have a right to. On the hub we have highlighted some specific examples of this, in particular from women’s experiences of hysteroscopy procedures in the NHS and pain during IUD fittings. We are keen to see this change and are proud to support patients campaigning for better research and treatment of primarily female health issues.
Another area where health inequalities intersect with patient safety is racial bias. This year we have shared:
- a blog highlighting barriers in healthcare faced by patients due to the colour of their skin.
- findings by the NHS Race and Health Observatory highlighting concerns about pulse oximeter bias, with work such as this recently prompting a review of medical device bias by the Department of Health and Social Care.
- ongoing work by groups such as FIVEXMORE to draw attention to disparities in maternal outcomes for Black women.
- studies highlighting concerns about unconscious racial bias being built into new artificial intelligence diagnostic systems.
We have also continued to highlight new reports concerning the unequal impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with people’s experiences often being influenced by pre-existing health inequalities.
As we move into the new year we will highlight further issues around patient safety and health inequalities, and start to explore in more depth the relationship between patient safety and human rights.
Other blogs in this series
Patient Safety Learning review of 2021: Creating collaborative spaces for patient safety
Patient Safety Learning review of 2021: Covid-19 - the ongoing impact of the pandemic on patient and staff safety
Patient Safety Learning review of 2021: The importance of patient engagement for patient safety
Patient Safety Learning review of 2021: Developing patient safety standards