First Report on Healthcare Needs of Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist & Minority Christian Religions in Ireland Launched

Posted on: 29 April 2008

A report on the healthcare needs of people from a diversity of religions in Ireland, including Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and minority Christian backgrounds, was launched this week by Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly. The report entitled, ‘Health, Faith and Equality’ is the first piece of dedicated research in the state to consider the diversity of faith in a healthcare setting, looking at the specific barriers that can restrict the successful uptake of services by those from a range of religious cultural backgrounds.

The Health Research Board funded report was carried out by Dr Katy Radford of TCD’s Irish School of Ecumenics in a variety of settings including the Adelaide & Meath Hospital incorporating the National Children’s Hospital (AMiNCH) in Tallaght, refugee reception centres around Dublin as well as community and faith-based organisations throughout the State. 

According to the author, Dr Katy Radford: “With staff and health service users coming from increasingly diverse backgrounds, there are challenges in health care settings connected to protocols and practices related to faith”. 

The report uses case studies¹ (see below) to illustrate its findings and the factors that mitigate against successful service delivery to those from diverse faith backgrounds.  Barriers can include: 
– inadequate training of professionals,
– the use of particular medications containing animal derivatives,
– approaches to medical interventions such as circumcision, blood transfusion, organ transplantations and post mortems,
– communication difficulties. 

The report has a series of recommendations including:
– a community development approach to working with non-Christian churches
– facilities relating to religious services become shared spaces for inter-faith use
– the Health Service Executive and Department of Health & Children develop a dedicated framework to co-ordinate the involvement of those from diverse religious in any strategic health promotion and prevention work.
– improved gathering of faith information and profiling within healthcare
– guidelines and protocols for staff,
The research provides a framework for emerging policy objectives, including outputs and performance indicators in relation to health needs and rights of those from non-Christian faiths within statutory service provision.

Commenting on her research findings, author, Dr Katy Radford said: “There can never be a one size fits all approach to religious practices.  Because there is such diversity in people and in their faith practices, no blueprint can ever take the place of simply asking questions like ‘how would you like to be treated’, or ‘what would you like?'”

According to the author, standards and services are being compromised by a lack of inter-cultural training and of data collection that evidences religious affiliation.

The report has been themed by the EU and the NCCRI (National Consultative Council on Racism and Interculturalism) as a research initiative under the 2008 European Year of Inter-Cultural Dialogue

Notes to Editor:
Case Studies:

1. When they knew they were having their first son, Amir and his wife Selma were clear that they both wanted to be present at the birth and for Amir to whisper the name of Allah into the child’s ear.  The community midwife was supportive of their wishes. However, when Selma went into labour six weeks early, Amir was out of the country on business and the midwife was on leave.  Contrary to the family’s expectations, Selma was taken to hospital and an emergency Caesarean was performed by a male doctor with other male medics in attendance.  When Selma recounts the story, she describes her distress within the context of shame and modesty when she was given an emergency Caesarean birth performed by a male doctor with other male medics in attendance.  She feels that it would have been preferable to have had someone there to advocate for her wishes even though her case was considered to be an emergency situation.  Speaking through a translator she describes how her expectations of the process were ‘shattered’ with the experience  dominated by the clinical and she uses words such as ‘abandoned’, ‘ashamed’ and ‘alone’ to express her distress at the time.

2.  The lack of data can lead to assumptions  – “It would be a good thing if they would just get round to asking.  I do get so tired of people assuming that I’m Muslim when I tell them that I’m Palestinian.”

About the Author
Dr Katy Radford, a social anthropologist based in Belfast, was commissioned to carry out the research on behalf of the Irish School of Ecumenics, TCD.  She is a social policy researcher with a focus on social inclusion issues and drawing on a process of participant observation she spent over a year talking with service users, chaplains, religious leaders, patient advocates and members of non-governmental organisations about their experiences and expectations of health care.  As a member of the Executive Council of the Belfast Jewish Community, Katy has a personal as well as a professional interest in minority faith issues.  She sits on the All Party Working Group on Minority Ethnic Communities at Stormont and is a member of the Racial Equality Forum convened by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.  She is currently looking at the clergy’s responses to suicide in the North of Ireland.