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Sexual health services in the UK are 'failing Black people'

New research has found that Black people in the UK are experiencing discrimination and having their ‘pain dismissed’ by sexual health services.

New research by the University College London (UCL) eHealth Unit in collaboration with Decolonising Contraception CIC and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH) highlights ways that sexual health services in England are failing Black people.

Participants in the Black Voices on Contraception Choice project described a lack of appropriate treatment, inaction or poor-quality care, discrimination, stereotyping, and lack of cultural awareness from providers when accessing sexual health services.

The study, which conducted interviews with Black Brits, found that Black people experience some of the worst sexual and reproductive health outcomes in the UK, and inequalities have widened during the pandemic.

‘The only issue I had with the patch is that it is nude, and is not friendly for the tone of black skin,’ said one participant on the contraceptive patch.

‘It suggests to me that Black women or women of colour are not important – it just really shows you how certain parts of the health services are just not for Black women.’

‘I found that a lot of the time my pain has been dismissed or any side effects or symptoms haven’t really been taken seriously,’ said another participant. ‘I experience this assumption from doctors that I don’t really know what I’m talking about.’

Project researcher Dr Shardia Briscoe-Palmer explained that participants had largely positive experiences of different contraceptive methods, but there is still much to be done to ensure Black people have positive experiences of sexual and reproductive healthcare.

‘Participants talked about not feeling welcome, not feeling listened to, and negative stereotypes and assumptions, leading to a lack of trust and reluctance to attend services at all,’ Dr Briscoe-Palmer wrote in a bog discussing the findings.

‘The feeling of not being listened to was a theme which came up frequently.’

She added that ‘cultural bias and racism’ around Black bodies is a ‘legacy of stereotypes stretching far into history’, which needs addressing across the sector.

‘Lack of visibility and representation was a recurrent thread,’ she says. ‘Better representation is needed in clinic staffing at all levels, as well as in research, on posters, websites and health promotion materials.’

The research interviews, which were held online due to lockdown restrictions, have been developed into a series of ten short videos about Black people’s experiences of different methods of contraception and of sexual health services.

These videos are an educational resource for both healthcare professionals and patients and can be accessed for free on the Contraceptive Choices website.

This video series aims to be a starting point for clinicians and policy makers to ensure the healthcare system is responsive to the issues raised by the participants.

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