Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality

Abena Oppong-Asare Excerpts
Monday 19th April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for bringing this e-petition debate on black maternity healthcare and mortality before the House. I also thank Tinuke and Clo, the founders of the Five X More campaign, who have been fighting to get this issue taken seriously.

Other Members have touched on these heartbreaking and stark statistics, but they bear repeating: black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy or up to six weeks postpartum, women of mixed heritage are three times more likely to die, and Asian women are twice as likely to die. Each loss of life is a tragedy, and that disparity is unacceptable. It needs to be understood and it needs to change.

I also want to mention the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ term “near misses”. The numbers of women who survive childbirth and are left with long-term morbidity are currently not recorded, but are part of a wider health picture. They must be taken into account. For the past year, covid has exacerbated many of these issues. In fact, even when other factors such as age, obesity and location were taken into account, black and Asian women are more likely than white women to be hospitalised. We need to understand why that is the case, because the statistics can only tell us so much. A commitment to looking into how and why that is the case is urgently needed. I am sure that all of us in the debate today would welcome that.

These tragic deaths are part of a wider picture, a story of health inequality, with black women facing disparities when it comes to stillbirths, cancer diagnoses and outcomes, and access to fertility treatment, among other things. We must recognise that disparities in health outcomes are driven by social factors—poverty, education and housing—as well as discrimination. None of that is new. It is not earth-shattering. It is not changing, either. That simply is not good enough. So we need action, and we need action now.

The Government must commit to a target to reduce the disparity in mortality rates. The Government must support Five X More pledges, including the recommendations relating to black maternity health in the report “Black people, racism and human rights” produced by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. There needs to be a full and independent review that seeks to end the disparity once and for all. The NHS must commit to robust data collection to aid the understanding of these outcomes. For a start, we need to move beyond the term BME. When women are dying, it is not good enough use data catch-all terms. We need to do more to deliver a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities it serves.

On a final and quick point, I have not mentioned “no recourse to public funds”. That is, of course, the huge elephant in the room when it comes to health outcomes. Some women face costs of £7,000 or more for essential maternity care. These are the very women who are at risk of increased mortality. It is time for that practice to end.