Irish cultural needs 'forgotten'
Health workers in Britain "don't bother" to understand Irish patients, who suffer higher levels of long-term illness, death rates from terminal diseases and mental ill-health, the Irish Parliament has heard.
A parliamentary watchdog was told very poor health among Irish expatriates and their children is not recognised because the community is lumped in with the overall white population in official figures.
Dr Mary Tilki, chairwoman of the organisation Irish In Britain, said many who remain cut off after years of discrimination are suffering further from a lack of cultural understanding afforded to other minorities.
"There is increasing recognition that people from the Caribbean, India and Pakistan have cultural needs but the Irish tend to be forgotten," she told Dublin's Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children.
"This can make for a very lonely and frightening experience in hospital, a care home or in end of life care.
"Staff can't or don't bother to understand their accents, pronounce Irish names, have little knowledge of their culture and often make stereotypical assumptions about them."
While many Irish people are successful in Britain, analysis of the most recent census records shows "very poor health" among the community compared to the overall population.
:: Irish people have among the highest levels of limiting long-term illness and self-reported poor health in England;
:: Irish Travellers have the highest self-reported poor health in the country and are second highest for long-term sickness;
:: High levels of death rates among Irish from coronary heart disease, hypertension and stroke;
:: The Irish have the highest death rate from cancer in the population.
Evidence shows ill-health is passed down from generation to generation among the Irish, albeit with some improvement, while the health of other minority communities matches the overall population within a generation.
Poverty, occupation, lifestyle and age all play a part but do not explain the full picture, Dr Tilki told parliamentarians.
"Because of the failure to collect or analyse data about the Irish, there is limited knowledge about uptake of screening, access to GPs, hospital services and treatment outcomes," she said.
While there has been a slow decrease in smoking among the Irish in Britain, continuing problems of obesity, poor nutrition and alcohol use are not being addressed by the health service, the hearing was told.
There is also reluctance among the Irish community to seek out early screening for cancer because of fears and attitudes towards the disease.
Community organisations are trying to break down the taboo.
However, Dr Tilki said there is a strong suspicion that because many Irish live in very deprived areas, they are not getting treatment they deserve on time.
"We hear repeatedly of people fobbed off by doctors, misdiagnosed and who don't have the confidence or support to assert their concerns," she said.
"We are currently lobbying the NHS clinical commissioning board, Public Health England and various cancer charities to gather and more importantly analyse data on the Irish."
Evidence also points to higher rates of depression and anxiety among the children of poorer Irish emigrants than the general population.
Harmful drinking remains a problem for younger second generation Irish men and women, and while it reduces when they reach their 40s, patterns of binge-drinking and smoking are evident from generation to generation.
The rate of suicide has remained consistently high for Irish people over three decades, showing none of the decline seen in other sections of the population.
Furthermore, it is estimated there are around 10,000 Irish people with dementia in Britain.
Their suffering and isolation is exacerbated when care workers do not take into account their cultural background, says Irish in Britain.
"We have seen peoples' eyes light up when they hear an Irish accent or some Irish music," Dr Tilki said, adding that recent recessions, reforms and reorganisations in Britain had made their work much harder.