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GPs too wary of asking patients for ethnicity

GPs may be failing to diagnose chronic illnesses in patients from ethnic minorities because they are too afraid of causing offence to ask about a patient's ethnic origin.

Researchers are warning that GPs' reluctance to ask about ethnicity could lead to dangerous gaps in practice records, which could lead to patients from minorities who are at high risk of cancer and chronic illnesses being missed when data is analysed.

In a report commissioned by the charity Cancer Research UK, researchers from the University of Warwick called on GPs to be more rigorous in taking and recording ethnic ethnicity data.

Ethnic minority data is particularly important for cancer, as some ethnic groups delay presenting to their GP with symptoms, even though many ethnic groups are associated with a high risk of certain cancers.

Professor Janet Dunn, deputy director of the Warwick Medical School clinical trials unit, warned: ‘Ethnic data collection is a sorely neglected area and it is vitally important that we take steps to assess the health of all ethnic groups in society. The Government gives QOF points for recording the ethnic minority status of newly diagnosed patients but there's no incentive for existing patients.'

‘There are many reasons for poor recording of data, including awareness of sensitivities when asking for these data, lack of motivation to collect or provide data, unwillingness or inability due to language barriers for individuals to provide such information, and lack of understanding as to how such data should be used.'

Professor Dunn said incomplete or inaccurate data collection meant people most in need of care would be overlooked by their GPs and the healthcare system.

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