Ethnic minorities - data can drive more equitable healthcare

Lead researchers: Professor Anne MacFarlane and Professor Ailish Hannigan, University of Limerick (UL)

Theme 2 graphic
The problem

Ireland’s diversity of language, culture and ethnicity has increased due to a rise in immigration. But we lack information about the ethnicity and culture of people in Irish healthcare settings, making it more difficult to know about differences in health between groups. We need this information so the healthcare system can adapt and ensure more people have the opportunity of good health.

The project

The Ethnic Minority Health in Ireland project was co-designed by academic, community and health sector partners. It mapped where information about ethnicity and culture was already being collected in relation to health. It also focused on what enables or stops ethnicity data collection in primary care settings from the point of view of Irish Travellers, refugees and immigrants, as well as GPs.  

The outcomes
  • The study supported priority actions in the Health Service Executive (HSE) Second Intercultural Health Strategy 2018-2023 •  We know more about the scale of the issue: of the 97 national health and social datasets examined, only 14% had information about ethnicity and culture
  • GPs reported they lacked the time to gather information about ethnicity and culture during consultations, and worried that asking about this sensitive issue might damage doctor-patient relationships. They were not convinced about the relevance of gathering ethnicity data for their consultations
  • Minority communities could see the potential value of having these data collected but had concerns about the categories used to record ethnicity and were concerned that ethnic and cultural data would be misused against them and/or not used to inform healthcare adaptations
  • The research team prepared a community drama called Diversity in Data based on the study’s findings and it was performed for GPs and in community settings. The drama is now being used in medical students’ training in the University of Limerick
  • A policy brief arising from the research for the Department of Health recommended collecting ethnicity and immigration data using an Individual Health Identifier and linking data across the healthcare system
  • Study findings were used to help train HSE contact tracers about ethnicity data collection during COVID-19.

Professor Anne MacFarlane, Director of WHO Collaborating Centre for Migrants’ Involvement in Health Research and Chair of Primary Healthcare Research at UL, says:  

“To provide equitable healthcare for everyone, we need to understand who has access to services, what their experience is and what their health outcomes are. Currently, the way we collect data does not reflect the increased diversity of ethnicities in Ireland, and we are using the findings of the Ethnic Minority Health in Ireland project to help change that.”

This research was developed through the Partnership for Health Equity, which is a partnership between the HSE National Social Inclusion Office, North Dublin City GP training programme, Irish College of General Practitioners and the University of Limerick School of Medicine. The research was participatory, meaning that it was designed and conducted with community partners from the Intercultural and Diversity Education Centre, Ireland and Shannon Family Resource Centre, as well as with partners from the HSE National Social Inclusion Office.

'Ethnic minorities - data can drive more equitable healthcare' is part of a wider collection of success stories across four themes from this year's annual Health Research in Action. Download the full publication

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