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Education And Debate

Department of Health's requirement for mandatory collection of data on ethnic group of inpatients

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 14 October 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:1006
  1. Peter J Aspinall
  1. South East Institute of Public Health, United Medical and Dental Schools of Guy's and St Thomas's Hospitals, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN3 0XT Peter Aspinall, research/information analyst.
  • Accepted 26 June 1995

On 1 April the Department of Health introduced the mandatory collection of data on the ethnic group of patients admitted to hospital. Its coding was based on a national minimum standard for classifying ethnic groups, ostensibly using the categories in the 1991 census. In the census, however, one in four people from ethnic groups other than white, includeing many of mixed parentage, provided non-standard responses to the question on ethnic group. The Department of Health's standard does not include provision for respondents to write in a description of their ethnic group, and this has produced a flawed system out of step with current practice on collection of data on ethnic group. Different methods of analysis preclude comparison with census statistics, and the difficulties in aggregating more detailed local categories to the standard raise concerns about consistency of reporting and quality of the data.

The debate about the collection of ethnic group statistics by census and health agencies in the United Kingdom and North America has been wide ranging and comprehensive.1 2 In particular, attention has been drawn to the necessary interdependence of census and public health surveillance systems and the importance of including free text fields for members of ethnic groups, particularly the growing numbers of people of “mixed parentage” (with parents from different groups), who do not feel catered for by specified categories.3 It is therefore surprising and unsatisfactory that the Department of Health's recently introduced mandatory requirement for recording the ethnic group of inpatients does not accord with this emerging consensus.

After the Department of Health attempted unsuccessfully to introduce the collection of statistics on ethnic group through general practice in 1992,4 the onus for such collection was shifted to secondary care and an implementation date was set for April 1993,5 coinciding with the …

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