May 09, 2023

NHS Underestimate Racism's Impact on Maternity Care, Group says

The MP committee in its major report into Black maternal health published on 18th April 2023, said that maternity staff must be better equipped to detect the inequalities that are in their services and delivery of care.

Studies have shown that in the UK, black women are 3.7 times more likely to die from childbirth than white women. Also, women in the most deprived areas are 2.5 times more likely to die than those in the least deprived areas.

In a new report, MPs voiced concerns about the unexplained disparity in maternal deaths. The report also suggests that racism may play a role, which the Government and NHS leadership have underestimated.

The Committee called for Health Education England to conduct fresh investigations to make sure that criteria for professional development of maternity staff includes evidence-based learning on health disparities, reasons for disparity, and how to deliver care based on facts.

In the report, MPs commended the effort of the Nursing and Midwifery Council alongside NHS England to ‘discuss promoting and embedding anti-racism in professional practice.’ They warned that workforce shortages across maternity services have made it difficult to safely implement continuity of care – a bedrock of the NHS’ commitment to delivering safe maternal services for all women.

NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said that the ‘Disparities in maternal deaths are unacceptable. And this is because the NHS births are considered one of the safest in the world.’ He added that “the NHS can, and must, do better.”

Sir Hartley also said that ‘The government’s Maternity Disparities Taskforce, is a chance for renewed commitment to ensuring trusts and their staff have the investment they need to make much quicker progress on addressing maternal inequalities.’

They urged the Government to increase the annual budget for maternity services to £200–350 million from the next financial year. This call had first been made by Jeremy Hunt in 2021 when he served as committee chairman.

The report also said that the policies put in place by the Government and NHS to address the disparities in maternal deaths between Black women and white women and by deprivation, are needful but not enough.

They therefore called on the Government to set a cross-government target and strategy – led by the DHSC – to put an end to the disparity which it said would keep the issue firmly on the health agenda.

Caroline Nokes, MP and chair of the Committee, said: ‘One of our biggest concerns is staffing shortages in maternity care. We need to see a sustained uplift in funding to bolster a workforce that has been stretched to its limits. We are also afraid the Government and NHS have not fully grasped that racism has played a key part in the complex reasons underlying the disparities, and that eradicating it is part of the solution.’

She also states: ‘The Government must be more ambitious and set a national target to end disparities. It is frankly shameful that we have known about these disparities for at least twenty years. It cannot take another twenty to resolve.’

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