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"Institutional Racism" Is Driving High Rate Of Black Maternity Deaths, Says Labour MP

Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy. (Alamy)

3 min read

Labour MP and black maternal health advocate Bell Ribeiro-Addy has told PoliticsHome “the government is very clearly ignoring the factors of race" after a new report showed black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white peers. 

In a report into ethnic disparities in maternal health, Parliament’s cross-party women and equalities select committee on Tuesday called on the government to “eliminate” what they described as "appalling disparities".

Ribeiro-Addy, who also sits on the committee, told PoliticsHome that instutitional racism was at the heart of the issue. 

“Despite what some racists might say, there is no issue with black women's bodies; there are no genetic flaws – we are not the problem,” said the Labour MP. 

She added: "We have a national health service which is meant to be free at the point of use... regardless of your race or your socioeconomic status, that there's a health service that advocates for you – and that is not what's happening here."

Ribeiro-Addy's remarks come after the women and equalities committee warned that racism, staffing issues, and poor quality data were contributing factors that had made the problem so long-lasting. 

Among its recommendations was educating maternity staff about disparities, and training for staff on “how to deliver culturally competent, personalised and evidence-led care”.

It also called for the government to provide a timescale for the roll-out of a maternal morbidity indicator, the government to “publish measures for gauging the success of the Maternity Disparities Taskforce”, and the government to increase the maternity services budget to £200-350m for the next financial year.

“The UK remains one of the safest places in the world to give birth,” said Ribeiro-Addy.

“But in the fifth largest economy in the world, we shouldn't be seeing the disparities that we're seeing in maternity overall, we certainly shouldn't be seeing this level of disparity when it comes to black women and their babies.”

In a statement with the release of Tuesday's report, women and equalities select committee chair Caroline Nokes called on the government to be "more ambitious and set a national target to end disparities". 

“Thanks to the tireless work of campaigners more attention has been paid to maternal health disparities in recent years, but improvements are not happening quickly enough,” said Noakes.

“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.”

Responding to claims institutional racism is driving higher mortality among black women, a spokesperson department of health and social care said: “While the NHS is already one of the safest places to give birth in the world, we are absolutely clear that we must ensure maternity care is of the same high standard, regardless of race.

“We’ve invested £165m since 2021 to grow the maternity workforce and are promoting careers in midwifery with an extra 3,650 training places per year, while every local NHS maternity system has a plan in place to tackle disparities on a local level.

“The Maternity Disparities Taskforce – a collective of mothers, clinicians and key organisations – is being chaired today by Minister Maria Caulfield to focus on how we can eradicate disparities and improve maternity outcomes for all mothers.”

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