Intended for healthcare professionals


Collection of data on ethnic origin in England

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 21 August 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1107
  1. Veena S Raleigh, fellow in information policy
  1. 1Healthcare Commission, London EC1Y 8TG
  1. Veena.Raleigh{at}

    Is improving, but information needs to be acted on for health inequalities to narrow

    A recent BMJ article marking the 60th anniversary of the NHS noted that “the patchy collection of ethnic data by the NHS needs to be improved.”1 Why are such data important, what is the current position, how is it likely to change in the near future, and how does data collection in the UK compare with other countries?

    Around 7.7 million people in England (15% of the population) belong to ethnic minority populations, defined as all ethnic groups other than white British (and therefore including white Irish and white other). In some areas—such as the London boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets, and Ealing—ethnic minorities comprise more than 50% of the local population. In 46 of the 354 English local authorities, more than 20% of the population is not white British. The population of the United Kingdom is also ethnically diverse and changing, as exemplified by the recent inward migration from Eastern Europe.

    Government targets for reducing inequalities in life expectancy focus on “spearhead” areas with the highest mortality and greatest deprivation, but the latest figures show that inequalities are widening.2 In England, about 37% of people from ethnic minority groups live in these areas, and they make up about 20% of the spearhead population. Furthermore, significant epidemiological differences exist between ethnic minority groups, and—contrary to the spirit of personalisation central to the Darzi …

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