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NHS crisis hits black communities the hardest

CONCERNS: Health groups believe structural changes to NHS could affect black patients

WHEN DIANE Ennis returned from holiday in 2012 with her leg swollen three times its normal size, doctors at an NHS hospital were baffled.

She was diagnosed with fibroids, deep vein thrombosis and a blood clot. Despite also having a bloated stomach and blood pressure so high that she was on the verge of getting a stroke, she was advised by consultants to go home and put her feet up.


Three months later, the 42-year-old mother-of-one was given the devastating news that she had advanced ovarian cancer. Ennis said she was left “traumatised” by the poor service she received from one NHS hospital.

She told The Voice: “My GP was great. He eventually referred me to a private clinic, and the trust who cared for me after the cancer was discovered was brilliant. But the service from the first hospital who saw me was abysmal. They lost my notes and scans and mixed up my medication.”

She added: “A lot of women go to their doctors with bloated stomachs and the first thing they are told is its IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or fibroids. I think they are too quick to dismiss things. There are tests like the CA 125 blood for ovarian cancer they can do, but they are reluctant because it costs money.”

Ennis is urging people to “be persistent” when they are concerned about their health. But experts are warning that, with a deficit of £500m in the first few months of the financial year, care will be compromised for dreaded killer diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicted will see a 70 per cent increase in cases from 14 million in 2012 to 25 million new cases a year.

According to health experts, these cuts to services, as well as the corresponding projected spike in lifestyle-related illnesses, are having a disproportionate impact on the black community.

Health activist Patrick Vernon said: “Whether we are talking about treatment for cancer or access to mental health services, there has been a massive reduction in funding. It has become a real postcode lottery, which means more challenges for black communities.”

BAD EXPERIENCE: Cancer survivor Diane Ennis

Pointing to the disparities that exist in cancer care for black men, he said: “Health professionals may have stereotypes about black men, so the way we communicate might be perceived as aggressive or angry, which then makes it difficult to have a proper interaction.

“There are clear examples of where men have raised concerns around cancer and they have been fobbed off, then later it is discovered that their condition is advanced and they had to have surgery.


“This is unacceptable and there needs to be an alternative approach and a change of attitudes in the way health care professionals relate to black men.”

But, he conceded that there also needs to be a “change of attitudes in terms of how men engage with health professionals and take more responsibility for their own bodies”.

Whilst highlighting the importance of improving the representation of black talent on NHS boards and in senior management, he urged the black community to “work collectively around health initiatives and health awareness programmes and on demanding quality service from the NHS”.

He said: “Back in the day people came together to raise money to buy homes and build churches. We need to work together and apply that same principle towards our health.”

Ennis, who is now cancer free, is calling for a change across the sector. She said: “Our lives are in these people’s hands. Doctors need to be trained and have compassion for their patients. As it stands, you could be diagnosed as healthy one day and be dead the next.” 

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “NHS England is committed to reducing health inequalities across the board including for BME communities. We are working hard with our colleagues in Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to ensure best practice around the country is shared and replicated and have ensured there is enough money in local allocations for CCGs to address any local variations.”

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