Black History Month: Innovation and Health Inequalities

In recognition of Black History Month, we spoke to some of the innovators and NHS staff we work with, who are actively addressing health inequalities across the NHS.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

Saira Arif, Product Manager, ORCHA, said, “Black history month for me is about sharing knowledge with one another; about the experiences, the achievements, and the amazing contributions to mankind by the Black community. Black history is world history, and should be celebrated, addressed, and talked about beyond just a month. It is a time to honour and celebrate the legacy that Black men and women have laid for future generations to follow. For me, Black history month also acts as a reminder for other ethnic groups to support the advancement of the Black community amidst the ongoing racial injustices that continue to happen around the world today, and injustices that we must all fight together, regardless of race.”

How is your innovation addressing health inequalities?

Natalie Nunes, Consultant Obstetrician Gynaecologist, Chelsea and Westminster NHS and Horizon Fellow, said: “My first project Eirene which is co-run with research midwife Lauren Trepte, provides a virtual reality headset with soft music, immersive calming scenes or guided meditation to reduce anxiety for patients having an awake surgical procedure for an early pregnancy loss. It was important that most of the content was not dependent on a good command of the English language so that those for whom English was a second language could still find benefit from use of the headsets. This allows patients of foreign heritage or of Black and ethnic minorities to be offered the same calming measures offered to other women. Additionally, as it provides both audio and visuals along with use of a stress ball provided by the Cradle charity, women with reduced hearing or sight, can still appreciate the provision for their other senses.

My second project involves enabling women with excessive vomiting in early pregnancy, to remotely self-monitor and giving them access to virtual assessments and care-at-home. Black and Asian women have a higher occurrence of excessive vomiting in pregnancy. Women with this condition have expressed a need for more support, earlier treatment and to be believed. Our remote monitoring service will be via an app for women experiencing vomiting in early pregnancy which will not discriminate against women of colour and will give them a voice to speak and expeditious access to care.”

Samantha Fay, CEO of DigitalHealth.London Accelerator company, SiSU said: “In England, there are health inequalities between ethnic minority and White groups, and between different ethnic minority groups (1). The picture is complex, both between different ethnic groups and across different conditions, and understanding is limited by a lack of good quality data (1). Comprehensive, good-quality data is essential for enabling policy makers and health care professionals to identify the specific needs of different ethnic groups, respond with tailored strategies for addressing inequalities, and track the impact of these strategies (1).

One way to get highly accurate and near real-time data is by leveraging free, self-service, health checks using a medical device health check machine, in community locations that are highly accessible to those impacted by health inequalities.  As an example, by placing SiSU health check machines in locations highly frequented by the Black community, we can both increase health literacy, empower people to improve their health and direct people to an appropriate pathway or health care intervention if required. We can also capture near real-time, accurate population health data at scale to enable policy-makers and health care professionals to identify the specific needs of different ethnic groups, in different areas and respond with tailored strategies.

As an example, in South London, from nearly 4000 in community health checks, we saw over 27% of health checks done by members of the public who identified as Black. This data showed some stark differences between the health risks of different ethnic groups – for example, of those health checks conducted by Black users, 14.8% recorded a blood pressure risk compared to only 6.8% of White Users. 

In another project, of over 8000 health checks in community locations, we saw the Black community were highly engaged, with those identifying as Black African providing an average Net Promotor Score (NPS) of 87. In this pilot, although they were amongst the most engaged group, they also had some of the highest health risks, for example:

  • 39% of “Another Black background” recorded a high blood pressure, compared to only 18% of White users
  • 73% of Black Caribbean had a high BMI (25+) compared to 61% of White users”

Saira Arif, Product Manager, ORCHA, said, “Initially, the rise of digital technology seemed to have been increasing inequalities. For example, at Project DESI, we often speak to members of minority ethnic groups about their views and use of digital, and a lot of the responses to date indicated that technology was only for those with time, money, and skills.

I think what digital innovation can really help do is provide a huge opportunity for thinking outside the box, and through new ways, actually address some of those barriers and challenges that often surface from members of our community.

If digital innovation means that we start to take an approach of co-creating digital technologies with marginalised communities, then I do think it would be a huge step towards reducing inequalities present today, as well as contribute to community empowerment as a whole.”

Check out this article which lists a number of useful resources on the topic of health inequalities.



The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners, and the Health Innovation Network, as well as MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.