Migrants have higher pain tolerance (at least that’s what Dutch healthcare says)

Research reveals shocking findings

Dutch doctors’ reluctance towards prescribing antibiotics might be a tale as old as time, but new research shows that some also refuse to take migrant patients seriously — all because of a harmful myth about their pain tolerance.

The harmful story goes that ‘migrants have a higher pain threshold’, and it’s just that — a story. But it’s not stopping some Dutch healthcare providers from treating them differently.

Research by the scientific journal BMJ Open proves that this isn’t just conjecture.

Investigating discrimination in Dutch healthcare, their study reveals shocking findings for migrants, as summarised by NU.nl.

Dutch denial

Investigating the prejudice of healthcare providers in the Netherlands is a challenge.

Associate professor of medicine at Amsterdam UMC, Jeanine Suurmond, discovered this when her attempts were repeatedly denied.

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Speaking to NU.nl, she explains that when it came to migrant discrimination, “I have sometimes been told that this would not be an issue in Dutch healthcare”.

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Then why does the new research show that over 25% of Dutch patients with a migrant background felt their health problems were dismissed because of their origin?

Risking patients’ health

So, this is bigger than just a few pain complaints being ignored, but a dangerous attitude problem.

“When healthcare providers do not take the complaints and pain of patients of colour seriously or have misconceptions about this, the patient does not receive fair care,” Charifa Zemouri, lead author of the BMJ Open article, tells NU.nl.

And it’s a common European bias, as studies across the continent show that “medical students are less likely to choose strong anaesthesia for people with a migration background”, Movisie researcher Hanneke Felten explains.

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So the evidence is already pretty damning — and then you hear the stories some migrants shared about their healthcare experiences.

The study puts forward a number of concerning case studies.

For example, one man tells of how his wife was initially accused of pretending to be in pain because, culturally, Caribbeans are considered more “dramatic.”

She was diagnosed with cancer after finally being taken seriously.

How did it get to this?

Receiving less pain relief because of your skin colour certainly sounds like something from the dark ages.

And sadly, that’s exactly where this prejudice comes from — the ‘higher pain threshold’ myth has its origins in the history of slavery, according to Zemouri and other experts.

READ MORE | About time: King Willem-Alexander apologises for the Netherlands’ role in slavery

The horrifying reality is that claiming non-white enslaved people could endure pain better than white people was a way for Dutch slave owners to justify brutal mistreatment.

Another contributing problem is medical consultancy centres spreading misinformation to healthcare providers, which informs the care they give.

NU.nl reached out to one such expertise provider, Pharos, about a false statement on their website claiming Moluccan and Indian elderly people “often have a high pain threshold”.

Pharos removed the passage shortly after their questions, but a lot of their information remains outdated. 👀

So, where do we go from here? Well, to enjoy a healthcare system without such prejudices, Zemouri encourages providers to “stop blaming health disparities on the patient and take action.”

Have you had similar problems with Dutch healthcare? Let us know in the comments below.

Feature Image:Freepik
Lottie Gale 🇬🇧
Lottie Gale 🇬🇧
Lottie joins DutchReview as an editorial intern after gaining a Bachelor’s in English from her native England. She continues to pursue all things literature in her MA Literature Today at Utrecht University. She is loving life here, and the ever-looming rainclouds often make it feel like a home from home. Lottie arrived to complete her studies and hone her writing skills — she’ll stay for the Dutch tranquility, tulips and tompouce.
  1. I just had a dental surgery. The surgeon said to me the anesthesia was not working, so instead of giving me more they hold me down and did the procedure anyway. Worst painful experience of my life.

  2. It sounds familiar.
    A GP told me once that “you (migrant) complain too much because you are used to a different healthcare system”. Yes sir, I have lived in several countries where patients are listened and not just dismissed as a cost-saving measure.
    I personally don’t go to the GP to chat or see his/her face. I go when I need to and I want a solution.

  3. I remember once when I was having bacteria throat infection, it took me 5 days to get antibiotics and only from different doctor in different place. My first GP said I should just “drink a lot of water to fight the fever, take some painkillers and go to work as soon as I’ll get better”.
    I was only one step from calling ambulance but luckily one doctor took it seriously and applied proper treatment.


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