Why are black and Asian women more likely to die or suffer injury in childbirth?
According to a 2020 report by MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries), black women are four times more likely to die as a result of complications in their pregnancy than white women. The report also shows that Asian women are twice as likely to die or suffer injury.
It is also reported that women from these ethnic groups have a greater risk of their baby dying during pregnancy or immediately afterwards.
Why are black and Asian women suffering so much more in childbirth?
The report lists heart disease, blood clots, epilepsy and strokes, diabetes, sepsis, mental health, bleeding, pre-eclampsia and cancer as the principal causes of death. These conditions affect all women, regardless of their race or background, however, the issue seems to lie in the disparity in the care delivered before, during and after pregnancy across all ethnic groups.
What the report highlights is whether the way care is delivered before, during and after pregnancy, disadvantages different groups of women on the basis of their ethnicity, socioeconomic status or pre-existing social, mental health or physical health problems.
According to the MBRRACE-UK report, women living in the most deprived areas were three times more likely to die than those in more affluent areas. Women in these areas will often face mental ill-health, domestic abuse and/or substance misuse.
It may be that communication, or lack of, could be a factor. Some black and Asian women may struggle to either communicate with healthcare professionals about their needs and feelings due to language barriers. In the same vein, they may also feel that they are not being listened to.
What changes are being made to improve the standard of care for black and Asian women?
Campaign group, Fivexmore, is an organisation committed to changing black women’s maternal health outcomes in the UK. Fivexmore has launched its 6 steps for health care professionals to adopt that will help drive changing attitudes to tackle this disparity and pressurise the government to act.
The steps involve listening more carefully; removing barriers to communication; checking that clear information is given; providing access to detailed documentation; and being a champion to inspire others to effect positive change in maternity and obstetric units.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has joined up with Fivexmore to campaign for improved maternity care for mothers from minoritised ethnic groups and eradicate maternal health disparities in the UK.
The charity, Birthright, has just announced that it is launching a new inquiry through a panel of midwives, families, health and human rights lawyers to find out why these inequalities exist, to find solutions and change the statistics. The inquiry starts in February 2021 and ends in February 2022.
As medical negligence solicitors, we sincerely hope the focus on this report, and the shocking statistics that have been highlighted, will bring about change and improve current mortality rates amongst black and Asian families.
We note that this was an incidental finding during an enquiry investigating deaths during and after maternity care amongst all women and babies in the UK. The question arises as to whether there are disparities amongst healthcare outcomes affecting black and Asian individuals in all areas of healthcare.