Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Black Maternal Healthcare and Mortality

Harriet Harman Excerpts
Monday 19th April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Harriet Harman Portrait Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab)
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I thank the members and Chair of the Petitions Committee for choosing this subject for debate. My constituency contributed the second highest number of signatures to this petition, which reflects the concerns of both black and white people in my constituency.

It is particularly tragic when a new mother dies. She will die early in life, leaving behind a newborn or other children. Everyone in maternity services wants maternity care to be a properly resourced and highly professional team. A black woman is four or five times more likely than a white woman to die during childbirth or shortly thereafter, and nobody wants that to be the case. It is a dreadful situation and it must be addressed. I have four proposals for the Minister. I know that she understands this issue very well, having worked in the health service. She cares about it, so I look forward to hearing her response.

First, the monitoring must be clear and publicly accessible. The publication of covid statistics has provided a real example of this. It has shown how, when information needs to be brought into focus and targeted at the public and everybody in the health service, the regular and consistent publication of statistics can enjoin us all in a public effort. Coherent statistics must, therefore, be published.

Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) has said, we must have a target to end this black maternal mortality gap, with milestones set for progress year by year. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, heard evidence from the chief midwifery officer that there is a great deal of concern about this issue but no targets have been set. We know that the NHS works to targets and to milestones. Good intentions are not enough.

Thirdly, we have to reduce health inequalities—this is a general but important point—and income inequalities, which mean that if someone is black they are more likely to have a low income, and if they are on a low income they are more likely to have poorer health.

Finally, we must recognise that this is not just about the health status of the mother; it is also about the delivery of care. We have to face up to a difficult truth. Polling by the Joint Committee on Human Rights found that 60% of black people felt that they were not likely to get equal care in the NHS, and 78% of black women felt that the NHS would not give them equal treatment. For white people, those are shocking statistics, particularly as so many black women and men play such a crucial part in providing NHS services. Those figures are based on the experiences and expectations of black women in a society where black people are not treated equally.

This is a matter for the consideration not only of everyone in every part of our society, but of everyone in every part of the NHS and everyone involved in maternity care. Like the Chair of the Petitions Committee, I hope that this debate will mark the start of rapid and transparent progress towards ending this egregious inequality.