UK Government Launches Review into Racial, Gender Bias in Medical Devices

The government of the United Kingdom has launched on Nov. 21 an independent review that will look into potential racial and gender bias in the design and use of medical devices currently on the market.

“There are concerns that the way medical devices and technologies are designed and used could mean a patient’s diagnosis and treatment is affected by their gender or ethnic background, exacerbating existing inequalities in healthcare,” the Department of Health and Social Care said in the announcement.

According to the Sunday Times, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid ordered the review after research showed that oximeters, which measure oxygen levels, are less accurate on people with darker skin.

“It is easy to look at a machine and assume that everyone’s getting the same experience. But technologies are created and developed by people, and so bias, however inadvertent, can be an issue here too,” Javid said.

The review will also cover MRI scanners, which are still not recommended for use for pregnant or breastfeeding women, to expand the scope of the use of the equipment.

The government said details on who will lead the review will be made known in due course.

Initial findings are expected to be released in late January 2022, the government said.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said in a statement that it supported the review.

“There needs to be a requirement that all research and development of medical devices are based on testing them on people of different ethnicities before production,” BMA Council Chair Dr. Chaand Nagpaul said.

Dr. Anil Jain of BMA also told BBC News that the review should also look into personal protective equipment or PPE, which he said was sometimes inadequate or inappropriate for people from ethnic minorities.

Jain added that the review should also look into “structural issues that might have led to the disparities that ethnic minorities as well as communities have faced.”

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