Ethnic minority patients in healthcare from a Scandinavian Welfare perspective: The case of Denmark

Nina Halberg*, Trine Schifter Larsen, Mari Holen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The Scandinavian welfare states are known for their universal access to healthcare; however, health inequalities affecting ethnic minority patients are prevalent. Ethnic minority patients' encounters with healthcare systems are often portrayed as part of a system that represents objectivity and neutrality. However, the Danish healthcare sector is a political apparatus that is affected by policies and conceptualisations. Health policies towards ethnic minorities are analysed using Bacchi's policy analysis, to show how implicit problem representations are translated from political and societal discourses into the Danish healthcare system. Our analysis shows that health policies are based on different ideas of who ethnic minority patients are and what kinds of challenges they entail. Two main issues are raised: First, ethnic minorities are positioned as bearers of ‘culture’ and ‘ethnicity’. These concepts of ‘othering’ become both explanations for and the cause of inappropriate healthcare behaviour. Second, the Scandinavian welfare states are known for their solidarity, collectivism, equality and tolerance, also grounded in a postracial, colour-blind and noncolonial past ideology that forms the societal self-image. Combined with the ethical and legal responsibility of healthcare professionals to treat all patients equally, our findings indicate little leeway for addressing the discrimination experienced by ethnic minority patients.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12457
JournalNursing Inquiry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Scandinavian welfare states
  • culture
  • ethnic minority patients
  • ethnicity
  • inequality in health
  • nursing
  • othering
  • policy analysis

Cite this