Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality

Claudia Webbe Excerpts
Monday 19th April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Claudia Webbe Portrait Claudia Webbe (Leicester East) (Ind) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary. I congratulate the campaign group Five X More, and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on securing this hugely important debate, as well as the nearly 200,000 UK residents who signed the petition. The debate could hardly be more important, as it shines a light on a devastating and long-neglected area of institutional racism.

The latest UK data shows that black women are five times more likely to die in pregnancy, or up to six weeks after giving birth, compared with white women, yet there is no target to end that. This difference has almost doubled since 2011, with a 121% increased risk for stillbirth and a 50% increased risk for neonatal death, but there is no target to end this. It is not true that black women are superhuman. They do not have a higher pain threshold.

The maternal mortality for women from Asian backgrounds is double that for white women. There is also a concerning increase in the maternal mortality rate for women from mixed ethnic backgrounds, who now have a three times higher risk compared with white women, yet there is no target to end any of this. There is no doubt that health disparities within maternity care settings have been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, African, African-Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic women made up 56% of all pregnant women hospitalised in the early months of the pandemic.

Discrimination is ingrained in the social, political and economic structures of our economic system. According to the Office for National Statistics, key workers are more likely to be from black, Asian or minority ethnic communities, to be women, to be born outside the UK and to be paid less than the average UK income. These inequalities are grounded in class inequality and reflect the severe racial disparities in our economy. African, Asian and minority ethnic women are also more likely to be in insecure work, which can leave them without basic maternity rights and more exposed to discrimination when it comes to hospital treatment.

That said, we cannot ignore the issue of racism and implicit racial bias in our healthcare system, which can negatively influence diagnosis and treatment options provided by clinicians, including pain management, and indirectly affect medical interactions, through loss of patient-centredness in treatment and the removal of patient autonomy. That has a corrosive effect on trust in services, which creates a downward spiral of healthcare outcomes.

The demonisation and mistreatment of migrants and those with unsettled status must also end. Migrant women with insecure status face charges of £7,000 or more for NHS maternity care, which can deter women from accessing essential services. The Government cannot be serious about reducing maternal health inequalities unless they abolish the “no recourse to public funds” policy.

There is also a significant gap in the medical research community, contributing to disparity of access in the UK. Latest figures show that 0.7% of professors employed at UK universities are black. In 2018, there were just 25 black British female professors in UK universities. Much more must be done to invest in research and researchers who can help combat those unacceptable health inequalities.

I finish by saying how callous, how cruel and how ignorant the Government’s recent race and ethnic disparities report is in the context of this debate. The Government’s crusade to deny the existence of institutional racism means that the disproportionate suffering of pregnant women of African, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds is ignored. This must change. The UK Government must urgently set a target to abolish racial disparity to combat maternal mortality, so that we can all hold them to account and work towards long-lasting change.