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National inquiry into racial injustice in maternity care calls for evidence

Maternal death rates among women from black ethnic backgrounds are more than four times higher than for white women.

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A national inquiry into racial injustice in maternity care is meeting on Tuesday to launch a call for evidence.

Supported by the charity Birthrights, the inquiry will examine how racial injustice is leading to poorer health outcomes for mothers and babies in ethnic minority groups.

It follows a January report from MBRRACE-UK, which examines deaths among pregnant women, new mothers and babies, which found maternal death rates among women from black ethnic backgrounds were more than four times higher, and among women from Asian ethnic backgrounds were two times higher, than for white women.

The new inquiry will be led by an expert panel made up of affected families, midwives, obstetricians, health and human rights lawyers and others working in anti-racism and health policy.

Shaheen Rahman QC, chair of the inquiry, said: “Statistics show that black, Asian and mixed ethnicity women are more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women.

“There are also concerns around higher rates of maternal illness, worse experiences of maternity care and the fact that black and Asian pregnant women are far more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

“We want to understand the stories behind the statistics, to examine how people can be discriminated against due to their race, and to identify ways that this inequity can be redressed.”

Sandra Igwe, founder of the Motherhood Group, a social enterprise that supports black mothers, and inquiry co-chair, said: “I was left traumatised after being constantly dismissed during pregnancy and birth – when I raised concerns I wasn’t listened to, when I asked for pain relief I was ignored.

“These experiences are all too common when I speak to other black women.

“We need to be heard and we need to see action – so I’m delighted to help put black people’s voices at the heart of this inquiry.”

Benash Nazmeen, director of the Association of South Asian Midwives and inquiry co-chair, said: “As a midwife and an aunt to 13, I have witnessed, heard and felt the discrimination faced by South Asian communities.

“The repeated questions based on racial stereotypes, unsafe antenatal conversations due to cultural and communication barriers, and the appalling statistic that Pakistani women are more likely to have a premature baby or neonatal death in the UK as opposed to their country of origin – there are too many concerns that need to be unpicked and addressed.”

Olive Lewin, partner at Leigh Day law firm and member of the expert panel, said there was “an urgent need for this inquiry”.

Chief midwifery officer for England, Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, said: “Everyone working in maternity services wants all women to have the safest possible care, which is why, as soon as evidence of heightened risks for pregnant women from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds giving birth during the pandemic became clear, support for these women was boosted.

“We are also fast-tracking our continuity of carer programme for women from black, Asian and ethnic minority women backgrounds which will mean they receive care from the same midwife and team before, during and after they give birth.

“This is proven to significantly improve women’s overall experience of care and their outcomes because they have a midwife who they trust and know will listen to them and their needs.”

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