Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality

Gary Streeter Excerpts
Monday 19th April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Gary Streeter Portrait Sir Gary Streeter (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Welcome, everyone, to this important debate. I remind hon. Members that some changes have been made to normal practice, to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will be a suspension between each debate. I remind Members participating physically and virtually that they must arrive for the start of debates. Members are expected to remain for the entire debate.

I remind Members participating virtually that they are visible at all times, both to one other and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, they should email the Westminster Hall Clerks’ email address. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before they leave. I would also like to remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall.

Before I call Catherine McKinnell to move the motion, I must say that we have 12 Back-Bench speakers. We normally allow 10 minutes for each Front-Bench speaker. If Catherine speaks for about 10 minutes, that should allow for in the region of four minutes for each Back-Bench speaker. I will not impose a formal time limit, but I ask everyone to try to deliver your speech within four minutes. That would be most helpful.

--- Later in debate ---
Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova (Battersea) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Gary. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) for leading the debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee. I also congratulate the formidable campaigners Tinuke and Clo, the founders of the Five X More campaign, who got the petition debate in Parliament today. The petition received more than 180,000 signatures. It is not before time that such a huge injustice is finally receiving the attention it deserves.

We have heard some powerful contributions from right hon. and hon. Members this evening, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Just last year, the Committee published its report “Black People, Racism and Human Rights”, which contains shocking findings, particularly that the care that many black people receive is unequal to what is given to white people. I urge the Minister to accept all the recommendations of that report.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) highlighted, as others have done, the choice made in the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities to sideline the institutional and structural racism that exists across society, but more so in the health service. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) made a powerful contribution sharing her lived experience. I thank her for doing so, but also for her tireless campaigning on the issue. She has been brave, and I thank her for that.

More importantly, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) highlighted some of the issues related to underlying health conditions in her own experience of being diagnosed with fibroids and also of being a sickle cell carrier. I also urge the Minister to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), to give 20 minutes of her time to her and her constituent and to hear their experiences.

I also want to mention the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), who highlighted the fact that we need to focus more on issues relating to research. Unless we do the work, we will not move forward and bring an end to this crisis.

As we have heard, it is absolutely shameful that black women continue to be four times more likely to die in childbirth and pregnancy than white women. That inequality has existed for decades, with little action being taken to address it. [Interruption.]

Gary Streeter Portrait Sir Gary Streeter (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Order. Does any Member present have to go to vote physically, or is everyone on a proxy vote? If everyone is happy, let us continue.

Marsha De Cordova Portrait Marsha De Cordova
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Last week I met campaigners, obstetricians, midwives and black, Asian and ethnic minority women with lived experience of maternal health complications. They were very clear that socioeconomic determinants such as income, housing and occupation and comorbidities only partially explain the inequalities affecting black maternal health. It is absolutely clear that structural racism is a driver of disparities in treatment, and it is a missed opportunity that the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities chose to sideline that important issue. I hope the Minister will choose to ignore and reject that view.

Black and Asian women, and their partners, regardless of their socioeconomic status, are not being listened to, not being respected and not being cared for. When they voice pain or concern during pregnancy or childbirth, they are branded as “aggressive” or “angry”, while dangerous stereotypes about “strong black women” mean that black women are often not offered the same treatment as white women.

It is outrageous that racist myths about black women having higher pain thresholds than other women continue to affect their treatment. Meanwhile, the lack of cultural competency in medical training means that complications experienced by black women are not spotted early enough. For example, black women have shared accounts of how their anaemia was not picked up soon enough because of the colour of their skin.

So I ask the Minister what action she is taking to tackle structural racism and to build trust in maternity services for black, Asian and ethnic minority mothers and their partners and for healthcare professionals, including midwives, as many have shared their experiences of occupational discrimination, as was highlighted in the Public Health England report last year. I would really like the Minister to address this issue. Additionally, cultural competency and unconscious bias training is an essential part of ending these inequalities, so will she commit to improving training in the health service and in medical schools?

We are all aware of the importance of data, which as we have heard is central to closing the maternal mortality gap. Many mothers and medical professionals have shared accounts of how pregnant women are recorded as being white if they do not disclose their ethnicity, meaning that it is difficult to track complications. Therefore, the recording of data is essential, so will the Minister commit to ensuring that all maternity services record the specific ethnicity of all mothers?

It is clear that fatalities are just the tip of the iceberg, with many women speaking of the near-misses and poor treatment they have experienced. I have heard from many medical professionals that data on near-misses could easily be made available, but it is not being. Will the Minister therefore commit to collecting and publishing data on maternal near-misses by ethnicity, and, if so, can she set a timeline for that commitment, with some clear milestones?

Midwives consider the continuity-of-care model as a way to help bridge some of these inequalities. A 2016 study found that women who see the same midwife throughout their pregnancy are 16% less likely to lose their baby. The NHS standard contract for 2019-20 stipulated that 35% of women will be booked on to a continuity-of-care pathway by March 2020. Can the Minister confirm whether that target was met? Can she also say what is being done to meet that target in the NHS long-term plan, which aims to provide continuity of care for 75% of black, Asian and ethnic minority women by 2024?

Before I close, I want to mention how the hostile environment is exacerbating this problem, as mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) and for Dulwich and West Norwood. Charging for maternity services and no recourse to public funds conditionality mean that many women are either becoming indebted as a result of their pregnancy or are turning away from health services all together for fear of being reported to the Home Office. Many women subject to charging are destitute and unable to pay, and three of the 209 women whose deaths were investigated in the 2019 MBRRACE-UK report were affected by charging for NHS maternity care. Does the Minister agree that charging women for maternity care is cruel and dangerous during this pandemic?

I want to make it clear that black maternal health and mortality is an avoidable inequality, and it is scandalous that the Government have not yet set a target to end this injustice in the NHS long-term plan, so will the Minister commit to doing so today? The NHS long-term plan sets many targets for other issues, so why not for black maternal health?

Let me be absolutely clear that a Labour Government would be committed to ending the crisis in black maternal health and mortality, and that the Government must take urgent action now. We need a national strategy to tackle health inequalities as a matter of urgency, which must include a target and a commitment to end the mortality gap between black, Asian and ethnic minority women and white women and to tackle structural racism once and for all, not deny its existence. We cannot afford for this not to be a priority.

--- Later in debate ---
Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is certainly one of the many issues highlighted in the report, but it is not the only one. We have commissioned the policy research unit in maternal and neonatal health and care at the University of Oxford to undertake research into the disparities in the near misses, and to develop an English maternal morbidity outcome indicator. The research will explore whether the indicator is sufficiently sensitive to detect whether the changes made to clinical care are resulting in better health outcomes. Five X More called for that in its list of 10 requests.

We are putting the research in. We have found a way to look at the research in order to make the differences that need to be made. We can do that by examining the near misses. What happened in those cases and in those women’s experiences? What went wrong? Do the women feel that they were not listened to? Was it a matter of treatment? Was it a lack of understanding? We need to understand that by looking at the near misses. The research is being undertaken, but it will take some time. Hopefully, when that is reported, we will be able to make progress on the issue of setting targets.

This Government are no strangers to setting targets. On the very sad issue of baby loss, we set a target to reduce neonatal stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates by 20% by 2020. We have reached almost 25%. We have smashed that target and are still pushing forward to improve that situation even more. We are not afraid of setting targets, but when we are setting them we have to know how to achieve better outcomes. The hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova) mentioned continuity of carer. She is absolutely right about those figures. We know that continuity of carer works incredibly well, particularly for black women and women from ethnic minorities. Having the same midwife throughout the process of pregnancy makes a huge difference. That is being rolled out across the country. I am sure that the hon. Lady has spoken to the chief midwifery officer, who is a huge supporter of the policy. We are continuing to roll it out and make progress with it. It has been slightly more difficult during the 12 months of the covid pandemic, particularly because many trusts did not continue with home births.

We are not afraid of setting targets, however. Setting targets in maternity units is what we are about, to make them safer places in which to give birth and in order to reduce both neonatal and maternal mortality rates, but we need to do the research on the near misses, to understand what the problems are. We cannot set targets until we know what we are trying to achieve through those targets and what we need to address. Five X More has asked for that research to be done. It needs to be done, and it will be done.

We are committed to reducing inequalities and to improving outcomes for black women—we work at that daily. I established the maternity inequalities oversight forum to focus on inequalities so that we in Government understand what the problems are. The forum also brings together experts from across the UK—we have met MBRRACE-UK and Maternity Voices—who have done their own research and studied this problem, to hear their findings and recommendations. Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, the chief midwifery officer for England, is leading the work to understand why mortality rates are higher, to consider the evidence on reducing mortality rates, and to take action to improve the outcomes for mothers and their babies.

NHS England is working with a range of national partners, led by Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent and the national speciality adviser for obstetrics, to develop an equity strategy that will focus on black, Asian and mixed-race women and their babies, and on those living in the most deprived areas. The Cabinet Office Race Disparity Unit has also supported the Department of Health and Social Care in driving positive actions through a number of interventions on maternity mortality from an equalities perspective. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has established—

Gary Streeter Portrait Sir Gary Streeter (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Order. Will the Minister kindly leave two minutes for Catherine McKinnell at the very end?

Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will end there, but if any hon. Members wish to speak with me about the work we are doing and the research we have undertaken with Oxford University, we are happy to share more. I say in response to the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) that very few personal meetings have taken place, but I would be happy to meet her and her constituent.

Gary Streeter Portrait Sir Gary Streeter (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Thank you very much, Minister. It is very important that Catherine McKinnell has the final word.