'Unconscious bias' against Māori in cot death advice

  • 19/08/2016
'Unconscious bias' against Māori in cot death advice

Families most at risk of losing a child to cot death may not be receiving the health advice they need.

A report in the New Zealand Medical Journal says an unconscious bias might be to blame for Māori parents not receiving sleep safe information when engaging with health care services.

Māori babies are five times more likely to die of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI) than non-Māori babies, but less than half of Māori families are being given the safe sleep advice, University of Auckland researchers found.

"Research with Māori and Pākehā GPs shows some Pākehā GPs find it harder to communicate with Māori patients and Māori are less comfortable, trusting and forthcoming in their interactions with Pākehā GPs," Carla Houkamau's report found.

They found some health providers may harbour old stereotypes that inhibit their ability to connect effectively with young Māori mothers and as a result that may cause them to withdraw from engagement services.

Only 43 percent of Māori babies received their first five core contacts, compared with an average 57.7 percent for all babies.

And of those only 48 percent received the safe sleeping information.

"Typically, when there is some kind of health inequity experienced by Māori this is attributed to lower socio-economic status, poor access to healthcare services or poorer service uptake on the part of Māori," Dr Houkamau said.

"However, we believe the possibility of unconscious bias towards Māori on the part of health care providers should be considered."

Dr Houkamau said health providers need to be educated about subtle and unconscious bias and how that can affect their dealings with Māori patients.

"Although having a greater awareness of bias will not automatically eliminate it, awareness of the issues is certainly needed to open up discussion and promote understanding," she said.