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Medics worry about cultural sensitivity

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by Cancer Research UK | News

14 November 2007

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Health professionals worry that a lack of knowledge about different cultures may lead to them being seen as insensitive or inappropriate to patients from different ethnic backgrounds – according to research published today.

The Cancer Research UK funded study – published in the Public Library of Science – was prompted by concern about inequalities in health care experienced by patients with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Researchers held 18 focus groups with health professionals from a range of different fields, from occupational therapists to clinical nurse specialists and doctors. These sessions allowed the participants to share their experiences and concerns of providing healthcare to ethnic minority groups.

The study revealed that many health professionals felt they did not know enough about different cultures and wanted to avoid causing offence or appearing racist. This uncertainty led to professionals being hesitant or unconfident, creating barriers to effective care in some cases.

Feedback from the sessions helped to form a training programme called PROCEED*. The key goal of the course is to improve the confidence of health professionals so they can respond to patients as individuals. This can help them feel able to ask each patient about any specific concerns they have about their illness and treatment.

The new training programme is designed to promote confidence and the development of generic skills that can be used with any patient, whatever their ethnicity or cultural background. The insights and skills developed using the resource can also be applied in a wide range of health care situations beyond cancer care.

Professor Joe Kai, lead researcher based at the University of Nottingham, said: “This study has highlighted how important it is for health professionals to feel adequately trained and informed when dealing with patients and families from a range of ethnic backgrounds. Comforting a patient after bad news or discussing issues such as bowel, breast or cervical screening can be awkward for both patients and professionals. Worrying about being perceived as insensitive can be a real barrier to quality care. We can help health professionals ensure that all patients and their relatives – regardless of their backgrounds – are treated as individuals.

“We hope that PROCEED will help reduce current inequalities in access to cancer information and care as well as other health care for people from ethnic minority groups. We have worked closely with a wide range of health professions to ensure that the resource is truly responsive and appropriate to individual needs.”

Martin Ledwick, head of cancer information nurses at Cancer Research UK, said: “A key strand of our research is aimed at reducing inequalities in cancer care in our increasingly diverse society. It is essential for health professionals to feel confident that they can respond appropriately and effectively to patients, regardless of cultural or ethnic background. PROCEED aims to help develop generic skills that can be used not just for cancer care, but a wide range of health care areas.”

For more information and details of how to order the training resource, visit the PROCEED website.


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