The UK government is not doing enough to protect black women giving birth in the country, lawmakers have said in a new report.
Black women are almost four times more likely to die from childbirth than white women: an “appalling” statistic that has shown little progress in recent years, lawmakers said.
Asian and mixed British women are also more likely than white women to die within six weeks of giving birth.
Factors such as racism in healthcare were likely overlooked by both the government and the public healthcare system, the National Health Service (NHS), members of Parliament serving on the Women and Equalities Committee have said.
Women who lived in the poorest areas are also at a disadvantage when it comes to maternal outcomes, according to the report.
Committee members also criticized a task force set up to tackle disparities in maternity care for not meeting regularly and lacking “tangible measures of success”.
MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the committee, said in a statement that although the country’s overall maternal safety statistics are among the best in the world, the UK continues to see “appalling disparities in maternal deaths”.
“It’s shocking that black women are almost four times more likely to die from childbirth than white women,” she said. “Thanks to the tireless work of campaigners, more attention has been paid to maternal health disparities in recent years, but improvements are not happening fast enough.”
Nokes said understaffing in maternity care was one of the biggest problems facing providers and called on the government to invest sustainably in strengthening a workforce “that has been pushed to his limits”.
Having enough staff is regularly cited as a key factor in patient safety, and some lawmakers have already called for increased funding to increase the workforce in maternity wards.
Former health and social care committee chairman Jeremy Hunt says the government should commit to spending an extra £200-350m ($250-435m) a year on staff maternity in 2021.
Nokes also expressed concern that ministers and the country’s public health system “have not fully understood that racism has played a key role in the complex reasons underlying the disparities”. Eliminating racism in health care, she said, was necessary to ensure equality of care.
Inadequate data, she added, was hampering efforts to tackle inequality by leaving women “invisible to the systems meant to serve them.”
“The government needs to be more ambitious and set a national target to end disparities,” she said. “It is frankly shameful that we have known about these disparities for at least twenty years. It can’t take twenty more to solve.
Tinuke Awe, who co-founded Five X More, a UK-based black maternal health charity, and testified before the committee, said his organization fully supports the report’s recommendations.
In an emailed statement, she told Forbes, “It’s good to see black maternal health at the forefront. This report is a step in the right direction, it’s not just about acknowledging the problem anymore. .
“This report highlights all the progress that has been made over the past few years while addressing the urgent steps that need to be taken to improve black maternal health outcomes.”
Last year, his organization published its own report which recommended improving the quality of ethnic data in health records.
“You can only start to see a real picture and improve things when you have the correct data sets,” she added. “Setting a target is also very important to reduce the statistics so that the government and the NHS can work towards clear tangible results for black women.”