Allyiah navigated the NHS during the pandemic as a young Black woman with chronic hip pain and found a world of closed services, waiting lists and learning to manage pain on her own


“There will be a significant wait and you may be overlooked due to the colour of your skin”– okay well what’s new?

It’s uncomfortable to be singled out and treated differently. It is even more uncomfortable when the reason for the maltreatment is the colour of your skin. So to report any health concerns as a Black woman is not something I enjoy. I was told by my GP when I was around 19 that I was ‘vain’ for reporting a skin concern, and I should return when it was ‘serious’. I was shown some images on the computer so I would know at what stage it was appropriate to come back. Then I was sent away with not a word of comfort. Not much has changed since then.  

In the present, the diagnosis process on the NHS is a merry-go-round, and I had to get off. Scans such as MR Arthrograms, CT scans and X-rays are key in diagnosing hip conditions and should have been tools the orthopaedic consultants used to direct them to the root cause of my hip pain. However, the times I have had my images done have been at private hospitals on behalf of the NHS due to my persistence, or at my expense after private consultation. 

Once I had a south Asian consultant on the NHS, and initially I thought that this person would understand, recognise I had been dismissed so many times and want to help me. We had similar skin tones so surely they would be sympathetic, but it was the opposite and once again I was hit with the wall of questions. One question I was asked is if I am a prolific marijuana smoker, as apparently pain of this kind is synonymous with those who are. When I answered ‘no’ for the second time – the consultant, gesturing to my hair (I had faux locs at the time) asked me a third time adding “are you sure?”


“For the three years I was in pain before the pandemic, there was already a waitlist, already a system which made it possible to wait years for a diagnosis. A system that was institutionally misogynist, institutionally racist”


It is these type of encounters that make diagnosis particularly difficult for Black women, especially when trying to diagnose hip conditions like mine. Despite continually telling doctors that I had extreme difficulty with walking and sitting – there was a real reluctance to look towards anything that would show them I did indeed have a hip condition. 

Mustering the courage to explain ‘something is hurting me’ to someone you don’t know, but hope can help you stop the unyielding pain you have been experiencing, is daunting. I do not like asking for help at the best of times, this is cultural but also something I know I struggle with personally. It is the last resort to report any health concern to my GP and I will normally have had the problem some time before I make an appointment. 

For the three years I was in pain before the pandemic, there was already a waitlist, already a system which made it possible to wait years for a diagnosis. A system that was institutionally misogynist, institutionally racist. A system which allows for women of colour, especially Black women to have consistently poor experiences, some of which end fatally.


“A friend and mentor asked me not too long ago if I considered myself to have a disability. I’d never really given it any thought but then realising there were days when I am literally unable to move, I started to realise.”


White fragility and white privilege are but two of the barriers to equity within the health sector. Although it has been long known Black people have been excluded in discussions about health and wellbeing yet there have been no serious movements or commitments to change the way things are. If you have enough money you can pay privately try and avoid some of the system but even within the private healthcare system there is bias and ways of working which prevent equitable access. 

There are moments on particularly bad days when I can’t move. I have to stay laid on my bed completely straight with ice packs on both hips, dosed up on codeine, paracetamol and NSAIDs. The hypermobility clinic has been closed for a long while now and the physio I did have access to was only provided to me when I couldn’t walk, as soon as I could the NHS took that option away from me and I had to pay for the rest of the rehabilitation I needed.

A friend and mentor asked me not too long ago if I considered myself to have a disability. I’d never really given it any thought but then realising there were days when I am literally unable to move, I started to realise. Being around me is different now, I’m unable to be the same person I was before and that has been difficult to adjust to especially as I was told by so many consultants nothing was wrong. None of my symptoms have got any better, they have most definitely got worse and I have undergone surgery that I shouldn’t have due to the haphazard nature of the diagnosis process. All of this I was experiencing before covid, and covid has only exacerbated it. Brexit has also had a negative impact on the NHS, the resources and health workers we have available. The wait times and dismissals were bad before, but things are only set to be worse. 

In 2021 I set up a crowdfund towards my hip arthroscopy. I will need further surgery this year as I have now been diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Note the timing of this diagnosis and that this could have been picked up earlier if the diagnosis process worked for women of colour. Although I have been able to access treatment privately, is this the only way forward for women of colour?  Is the only way for us to be heard, understood and truly get an accurate diagnosis for us to pay privately despite paying taxes towards the National Health Service which is supposed to serve all? We all pay for the NHS but women of colour, and especially Black women still have a significantly worse experience than any other group. 


Allyiah enjoys writing in her free time. She has spoken with John Pienaar on Times Radio about her experiences with chronic hip pain and backlogs within the NHS. She has also written for the Waltham Forest Echo.  Follow Allyiah on Instagram

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