New review to examine health inequalities in Jewish communities

  • Published: 04.10.2022

Low immunisations, high Covid-19 rates and increased breast cancer risks – some of several health inequalities disproportionally found amongst Jewish communities in England – are set to be explored in new review commissioned by the NHS Race and Health Observatory.

Organisations have until November 18 to submit their proposals to tender for the 12-month action-focused review to examine how the NHS communicates and engages with the Jewish community, the methods used to deliver key public health messages, and potential barriers in distributing health messages around areas including vaccinations, healthy eating, wellbeing and exercise.

In addition, approaches to addressing mental health and an overview of the level of understanding NHS health care commissioners have on a number of unique health care challenges, will form a key part of the review and its recommendations for action. As part of the review, the Observatory will work closely with the NHS Jewish Staff Network.

The successful organisation will be tasked to consider new insights and draw on existing evidence which show a number of inequalities continue to persist for this population, some dating back decades.  The review will also consider how various guidelines and policies aimed at Jewish communities, which have twice the number of people aged over 60 compared to the general population, are implemented.

Potential barriers and ‘blind spots’, combined with a broad lack of understanding about specific needs, can mean adequate healthcare is not always tailored accordingly. According to a study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the UK’s Orthodox Jewish community experienced high incidences of Covid-19 infection during 2020.

Data also show one in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women have the BRCA gene mutation which can raise the risk for getting breast cancer at a younger age, along with ovarian and other cancers.

Where found, researchers will amplify leading examples of practical methods, resources, preferred channels of engagement and communication –  including booking appointments during religious festivals – and signpost case studies that broadly help improve experience and treatments between patient, NHS health providers and the wider Jewish community.

The final report will include evidence-based recommendations for action and highlight promising approaches (both published and unknown) where NHS health providers already demonstrate and lead the way with tailored information, engagement strategies and guidance on how to best care for patients from Jewish backgrounds.

Professor David Katz, Executive Chair of the Jewish Medical Association, welcomed the announcement of the review, saying:

“The pandemic not only highlighted inequalities, but also demonstrated that for interventions to be effective they need to be both evidence-based and community based.”

Professor Katz is working with Dr Fiona Sim, a public health consultant, representing the Jewish Medical Association, to help promote recognition of Jewish intersectionality –  racial, cultural and faith issues –  all of which need to be considered when optimising NHS services available for the Jewish community.

The research will also consider the impact of communications in areas including:

  1. Hospital food for patients
  2. Difficulties with booking appointments, including on sabbath and during religious festivals
  3. Poor experience due to staff educational / cultural incompetency
  4. Experience and impact of antisemitism from staff, patients or members of the public
  5. End of life care, including care of the bereaved
  6. Challenges in making use of trusted sources of health information from within the community

Dr Habib Naqvi, Director of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, said:

“Deeper understanding is needed into why inequalities are continuing to persist for the Jewish population. There is clear evidence that culturally sensitive, tailored engagement and communication, delivered through the correct platforms, can yield positive results with increased access to health services and better health outcomes. This work will enable us to take another step towards ensuring healthcare services and interventions do not leave any of our communities behind.”