MPs on the women and equalities committee warned that present efforts to address inequality in maternity care were “necessary but insufficient”. They said “the government and NHS leadership have underestimated the extent to which racism plays a role”.
A national report into deaths in and around childbirth last year concluded that the difference in maternal mortality rates was more than threefold, with black women 3.7 times more likely to die than white women, equating to 34 women per 100,000 giving birth. Asian women were 1.8 times more likely to die.
The British Government and the National Health Service (NHS) have underestimated the role of racism in maternal outcomes and must set more tangible targets to improve maternity services for all women, according to the House of Commons’ women and equalities committee.
Women in the most deprived areas of Britain are also 2.5 times more likely to die in childbirth than those in more affluent places, according to the findings.
Racism, racial discrimination, barriers to accessing healthcare and woeful collection of ethnicity data had “negatively impacted” the health of black, Asian and minority ethnic people for years, according to the review, commissioned by the NHS Race and Health Observatory. But more than a year on, MPs say there has been “much talk and little action”.
Health leaders and campaigners said they were saddened but not surprised by the MPs’ findings. “The stark outcomes that black women face as a result of racial discrimination in maternity care has to be urgently prioritised and tackled. Evidence clearly shows that black and other minority ethnic women are often paying with their lives for the lack of action on racial bias in healthcare,” said Dr Habib Naqvi, the chief executive of the NHS Race and Health Observatory, an independent expert group.