Further Reports of Racial Bias in NHS Maternity Care

Further Reports of Racial Bias in NHS Maternity Care
BSC, LLB (Hons) & LPC Sophia Azam
Legally reviewed by: BSC, LLB (Hons) & LPC Sophia Azam Updated: In: Medical Negligence

Racial Bias in NHS Maternity Care

Worrying research carried out by Oxford Population Health’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit (OPHNPEU) shows that women from black ethnic backgrounds are up to three times as likely to die during or shortly after pregnancy compared to white women. Women from Asian ethnic backgrounds are also affected with a death rate twice as high as that of white women.

In addition, women living in socio-economic inequality were at a higher risk during pregnancy. The study found women living in some of the most deprived areas of the UK are more than twice as likely to die before or shortly after pregnancy compared to a woman form a one of the least deprived areas.

With as many as 1 in 4 of all live births in England and Wales (according to 2018 data), it’s vital that the NHS continue to work towards reducing the inequality of outcomes for women from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities and their babies in an increasingly diverse UK.

Why is there Medical Inequality in BAME Communities?

There is not one reason for why women and babies from BAME communities experience poorer outcomes during pregnancy. More research is required to fully understand these multi-faceted issues. However, common issues which worsen outcomes for BAME patients, as outlined by Public Health England, include:

  • low socio-economic status or social support
  • lack of proficiency in English
  • multiple vulnerabilities such as FGM or recent migrant status
  • policy of charging undocumented migrants for maternity care
  • a ‘one size fits all’ approach to maternity care which does not consider differences in women’s abilities to understand or access care, or serve the most vulnerable appropriately, can result inequalities in healthcare provision, contributing to structural racism.
  • cultural barriers combined with insufficient training of healthcare professionals in cultural sensitivity and knowledge.

Public Health England advocates for continued awareness of these inequalities within the NHS, questioning whether the way the services deliver care before, during and after pregnancy disadvantages different groups of women (based on ethnicity, socioeconomic status or pre-existing social, mental, or physical health problems).

Read more about racial bias in the NHS.

Pregnancy Death Rate at Highest Level in 20 Years

Data from MBRRACE-UK reveals that the number of women dying during pregnancy or shortly after is at its highest level in 20 years with black women especially from deprived areas most affected. The data comes as part of the national Maternal New-born and Infant clinical Outcome Review Programme (MNI-CORP) and monitors the causes of maternal deaths, stillbirths, and infant deaths.

From January 2020 to December 2022, the figure stood at 13.41 deaths per 100,000 women in the UK during pregnancy or within six weeks after pregnancy. This figure is higher than data taken over 2017 to 2019 which stood at 8.79 deaths per 100,000. Even with deaths from COVID excluded from the recent data the reflects a worrying trajectory with deaths still higher than 2017-2019.

Read further about the findings from BAME maternity investigations.

Plans to Combat Childbirth Mortality

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Any death linked to childbirth is a tragedy, and we’re committed to ensuring all women receive safe and compassionate care from maternity services, regardless of their ethnicity, location or economic status.

“We’re investing £165m per year, rising to £186m from April, to grow the maternity workforce and improve neonatal care across England, and have put £6.8m towards tackling disparities in maternity care to ensure all mothers-to-be feel safe during and after giving birth.”

“To improve maternity care, last year NHS England published a three-year plan to make maternity and neonatal care safer and more equitable.”

AWH Solicitors Advocating for Maternity Safety in the NHS

AWH Solicitors has been writing articles covering the topic of maternity safety in the NHS. Below you can read further about other relevant topics:

What to if You or a Loved One Has Suffered from Racial Bias in NHS Maternity Care

For women who are unfortunate to suffer injury and loss due to any aspect of maternity care, pursuing a claim for maternity negligence is a way of obtaining compensation and can also promote change within the NHS to ensure these failings don’t happen again. That is why it remains so important for anyone who is unhappy with how they are treated in the NHS to come forward and make a claim, regardless of race or background.

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