Black Maternal Health Debate | MPs demand targets to address disparities faced by black women in pregnancy

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Further research is needed before the government can set targets to address disparities in Black maternal health outcomes, according to Health Minister, Nadine Dorries.

The response was given when pressed on the matter by the MP for Battersea Marsha de Cordova, and after the MP for Bath Wera Hobhouse queried whether communication issues left non-white Mothers without all their necessary choices. Dorries said that progress into the research on ‘near misses’ would allow for the government to begin to set targets.

The research is being carried out by the policy research unit in maternal and neonatal health and care at the University of Oxford.

We are putting the research in. We have found a way to look at the research in order to make the differences that need to be made. We can do that by examining the near misses. What happened in those cases and in those women’s experiences? What went wrong? Do the women feel that they were not listened to? Was it a matter of treatment? Was it a lack of understanding? We need to understand that by looking at the near misses. The research is being undertaken, but it will take some time. Hopefully, when that is reported, we will be able to make progress on the issue of setting targets.

Nadine Dorries, Health Minister

Thankfully however, this will not stop the calls for the government to press ahead and chart out a plan to address the disparity in outcomes.

Nearly every speaker called for a target to reduce the disparities in maternal outcomes which sees Black women disproportionately impacted by complications during and after pregnancy.

The MP for Bath Wera Hobhouse called for targets to be put in place to halve the disparity in five years. The Mother of the House and MP for Camberwell and Peckham Harriet Harman applied similar pressure on the matter.

We know that the NHS works to targets and to milestones. Good intentions are not enough.

Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham

Last year's Black People, Racism and Human Rights report found that Seven in 100,000 white women die in childbirth, 13 in 100,000 Asian women, 23 in 100,000 mixed ethnicity women. 38 in 100,000 Black women die in childbirth. It is thought that for every instance of maternal mortality, there are 100 severe maternal morbidities or 'near misses'.

The Labour MPs Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Florence Eshalomi shared personal accounts of their maternal experiences. Ribeiro-Addy reflected on how her case of pre-eclampsia was spotted too late. Doctors told her that either her child would die, or both herself and her child would die.

During my own pregnancy, it was not hard to find instances where, as a black woman, how I was perceived or believed drastically impacted the care I received, from complaints about how I was feeling to being denied scans. We know that black women are perceived to experience less pain. We know this, and we have no target to end it.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, MP for Streatham

Widening health inequalities mean that Black/Black British babies face a 121% increased risk of stillbirth and a 50% increase in neonatal death. These disparities also see Asian/Asian British babies impacted too. Asian/Asian British babies face a '66% increased risk of neonatal mortality' and an 'increased risk of stillbirth of around 55%.'

I want to make it clear that black maternal health and mortality is an avoidable inequality, and it is scandalous that the Government have not yet set a target to end this injustice in the NHS long-term plan, so will the Minister commit to doing so today? The NHS long-term plan sets many targets for other issues, so why not for black maternal health?

Marsha de Cordova, MP for Battersea

As was pointed out by Marsha de Cordova on Monday and has been on this website previously, the lack of clear target is a visible reminder that the lives of black women are not being given the regard that they warrant.

MPs, activists and observers will continue to question why such a glaring issue that disproportionately affects women from non white backgrounds has not been addressed.

The Health Minister Nadine Dorris highlighted that the NHS was among the ‘safest places in the world to have a baby’ but the disparities obscure critical structural issues which place black and brown women at the greatest risk.

There was also condemnation directed at the government’s race report. The report, which denied the existence of institutional racism, was heavily criticised by Naz Shah, Helen hayes, Claudia Webb and more for undermining the lived experience of Black women. When inequalities like this exist, is it any wonder why? 

The racial disparities in maternal health further serve to underline the nonsense of the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. That report straightforwardly denies the lived experience of many black people and people of colour living in the UK. Addressing structural racism, shown so clearly in the health data we have been discussing today, must start with listening to and taking seriously the experiences of black people and people of colour in the UK, not denying those experiences. 

Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood 

Other issues which were raised included greater monitoring by delivering clear, regular, and publically accessible statistics on maternal mortality. The financial barriers to accessing healthcare which affects asylum seekers and women with no recourse to public funds was also highlighted. Finally, the need for more accurate recording was raised by Abena Oppong-Asare.

We need to move beyond the term BME. When women are dying, it is not good enough use data catch-all terms. We need to do more to deliver a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities it serves.

Abena Oppong-Asare, MP for Erith and Thamesmead


Mayowa Ayodele

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