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MPs Urge Government To Take Action On Racial Disparities In Pregnancy Care

MPs Urge Government To Take Action On Racial Disparities In Pregnancy Care

Black women are four more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts (Alamy)

5 min read

MPs have rallied behind a campaign calling for the government to do more to end the black maternal mortality gap ahead of a debate on the topic on Monday.

The session is being held after a petition by campaigning group FivexMore on black maternal healthcare and mortality attracted over 187,000 signatures in June 2020.

“Black Women in the U.K. are 5 times more likely to die during pregnancy and after childbirth compared to White Women (MBRRACE, 2019),” the petition read. 

“We need more research done into why this is happening and recommendations to improve health care for Black Women as urgent action is needed to address this disparity.”

MPs from across the Commons have expressed their support for the campaign ahead of the debate by posting photos on social media holding up their hands in a ‘stop’ sign.

Labour is set to use the debate to call on the government to commit to a target of ending the maternal mortality gap, The Independent reports.

“It is totally unacceptable that the government has not yet set a target to close the gaps in maternal mortality in the UK,” Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow women and equalities minister, told PoliticsHome.

“We have known about these fatal inequalities for years but nothing has been done by Ministers to tackle this. Black women have worked hard to get this petition into parliament and we need to use this opportunity.”

She added: “We need urgent action to tackle health inequalities and structural racism, and to ensure black and ethnic minority women get the treatment they deserve through their pregnancies. We cannot afford for this to not be a priority.”

Meanwhile, Labour MP Florence Eshalomi, who is set to speak in the debate later, said: “I would like the debate to raise awareness of this issue and help kick start a national debate that will lead to the government taking action to tackle these disparities. 

“We have the data – and it shows that maternal and perinatal mortality rates are significantly higher for women of Black, Asian and mixed heritage, and their babies. 

She told PoliticsHome: "But to tackle this, we must first acknowledge the structural and institutional racism in our healthcare system. 

“We know that BAME women may not be listened to throughout the course of their care, and can be subject to multiple biases and micro-aggressions. 

“As a result, a lot of their symptoms are dismissed as due to pregnancy when in fact they are quite concerning and should be investigated further. The NHS is aware of this disparity but has no target to end it.”

Fellow Labour MPs Dawn Butler, Zarah Sultana, Diane Abbott, Harriet Harman and Bell Ribeiro-Addy have also expressed their support for the campaign on social media.

"It cannot be a coincidence that so many Black, Asian, and women of mixed heritage report similar experiences in pregnancy and childbirth,” Butler said.

“More needs to be done to find out why this is happening and urgent action is needed to address this disparity." 

And, in a letter to health secretary Matt Hancock, Lewisham West and Penge MP Ellie Reeves urged the government to take action on the “shameful and disturbing” maternal mortality rates among black women.

She said that “implicit racial bias within the healthcare system” could be one of the contributing factors in this gap, alongside others such as “poverty, education and housing”.

“This bias can negatively influence diagnosis and treatment options made by clinicians and indirectly affects medical interactions through loss of patient-centeredness in treatment plans and removal of patient autonomy,” Reeves said. 

She added: “Pregnancy and giving birth can be an extremely anxiety inducing experience and this is unduly made all the more so for those from non-white ethnic groups.”

The level of support has been welcomed by pregnancy discrimination campaigners Pregnant Then Screwed, who warned that “Black women have been demanding that this issue be taken seriously for years”.

“We need less talk and more action. Black women should not be fearing for their life when they give birth and it is completely unacceptable that Black women are so much more likely to die,” said Joeli Brearley, the group’s CEO and founder.

“Debates are worthless if they don’t immediately lead to tangible action and change.”

Responding to concerns, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The colour of a woman’s skin should have no impact on her or her baby’s health and we are committed to tackling disparities and making sure all women get the right support and best possible maternity care.

“Through our NHS Long Term Plan, at least three quarters of pregnant Black, Asian and minority ethnic women will receive care from the same midwives during pregnancy and after they give birth by 2024," they added.

“We have also launched a call for evidence for the first government-led Women’s Health Strategy, to address health inequalities across the whole health and care system.

"We urge all women to come forward and share their experiences, so we can create a system that works for everyone.”

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