NHS to tackle ‘unfair’ maternity outcomes

A taskforce has been set up to tackle disparities in maternity care experienced by women belonging to ethnic minorities and those living in deprived areas.

Black women are 40% more likely to miscarry than white, studies suggest. Maternal death rates are also higher among black and Asian women.

Experts say the reasons are complex but urgently need addressing.

BBC News has been highlighting the issue with a series of reports.

  • Miscarriage: ‘I was in pain and they did not listen’
  • Miscarriage rates higher for black women
  • Black women four times more likely to die in childbirth
  • Why are black mothers at more risk of dying?

“It makes you question whether it is seen as important – and if it is not important, why not?”

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists head Dr Edward Morris told BBC News implicit racial bias was affecting some women’s care.

Miscarriage Association trustee Natasha Necati, from Essex, who has had eight miscarriages, says there was no “blatant racism” in her care – but there were times she was not listened to.

“I haven’t always felt I have been taken seriously,” she says. “I have, in some cases, complained about serious amounts of pain during miscarriages and it was kind of pooh-poohed.”

One of Natasha’s key concerns is little research is funded into why black women face higher risks.

“Surely if it was deemed important, tens of thousands of pounds would be being spent on getting answers,” she says. “It makes you question whether it is seen as important – and if it is not important, why not?”

‘Ambitious change’

Patient Safety and Primary Care Minister Maria Caulfield said: “For too long disparities have persisted which mean women living in deprived areas or from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to get the care they need and, worse, lose their child.

“We must do better to understand and address the causes of this.

“The Maternity Disparities Taskforce will help level-up maternity care across the country, bringing together a wide range of experts to deliver real and ambitious change so we can improve care for all women – and I will be monitoring progress closely.

“As a nurse, I know how incredibly challenging the last two years have been and would like to thank all our dedicated maternity staff for their hard work and commitment throughout the pandemic.”

Chief midwifery officer Prof Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, who will co-chair the taskforce, said: “The NHS’s ambition is to be the safest place in the world to be pregnant, give birth and transition into parenthood – all women who use our maternity services should receive the best care possible.”

The taskforce will meet every two months and focus on:

  • improving personalised care and support plans
  • addressing how wider societal issues affect maternal health
  • improving education and awareness of health when trying to conceive, such as taking supplements and maintaining a healthy weight
  • increasing access to maternity care for all women and developing targeted support for those from the most vulnerable groups
  • empowering women to make evidence-based decisions about their care.

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